Fire Rated Ceilings: A resident’s guide

Can I install downlights, ducted air conditioning, ceiling exhaust fans or manholes in my unit ceiling?
Well yes… but you need to be very careful if your ceiling designed to have a “resistance to the incipient spread of fire to the roof space for a period of not less than 60 minutes”.
Fire rated ceilings are an fire safety measure, designed to slow the spread of fire from one part of the building to another.

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Passive Fire Protection

Passive Fire measures are designed to stop (or slow) the spread of fire from one part of the building to another. Most buildings have Passive Fire protection measures – even if they are not specifically listed on the AFSS.

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Emergency Lights

In an emergency situation emergency lights should run on their backup battery for at least 90-minutes. Australian Standards require that exit & emergency lights be tested every 6 months. Exit and emergency lights have a shorter lifespan when compared to non-emergency lights.

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Smoke Alarms & Landlord Obligations

Landlords have clear obligations when it comes to the installation, repair and maintenance of smoke alarms.
So who is responsible for what?
Landlords can engage Civil Fire to fulfil their obligations for $75 + GST each year.

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Safe Passage Fire Exit

Paths of Travel

Maintaining exits, and clear paths of travel to exits is critical in ensuring occupants can escape in the event of an emergency. So what are the requirements?

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Fire Sprinkler

Fire Sprinklers

Fire sprinklers are a highly effective method of fire suppression. But in order for them to operate effectively they need to have adequate clearance and coverage. We’ll explore some of the common issues we see with sprinklers in residential strata buildings.

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Accredited Practitioners (Fire Safety) are audited every 5 years.

In July 2020 the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (EPAR) was amended. The amendment has many implications, one of which is that each fire safety measure listed on the AFSS is required to be endorsed by an “Accredited Practitioner (Fire Safety)”.

Civil Fire has 5 Accredited Practitioners who are accredited to endorse ALL fire safety measures.

“Accredited Practitioner (Fire Safety)” were brought into existence under section 59 of the Building and Development Certifiers Act 2018 with the aim of:

  1. Allowing owners to readily identify individuals with the required skill and knowledge to be selected to maintain these critical systems; and
  2. Ensuring that the Accredited Practitioners are accountable for the endorsements they provide.  

The accreditation is held by individual practitioners and NOT by the company they work for.

The Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA) is required to audit 20% of Accredited Practitioners each year to ensure they are working in accordance with the legislation and the Good Practice Guide, that they have agreed to abide by (GPF04 – Fire Safety Statements NSW) (GPG).

The FPAA are required to investigate and sanction Accredited Practitioners if they are found to have acted unprofessionally, or in breach of the legislation or GPG.

There is significant onus on the individual Accredited Practitioners to ensure they are following due process. Disciplinary action could result in them being unable to work.

As a business Civil Fire have policies in place to support our Accredited Practitioners in ensuring they are not in breach of any legislative requirements.  Two such policies are outlined below.

1) Civil Fire's FSAs cannot endorse measures where repairs have been completed by others, without further assessment or inspection.

Owners can seek comparative quotes for repairs. Repairs can be completed by 3rd Parties as long as the owners deem the 3rd party to have the appropriate qualifications and required experience to complete the repairs.

The GPG states:

“The building owner has discretion as to who they engage to undertake appropriate rectification action or assist the owner to undertake appropriate rectification action.”

But repair is distinct from assessment for the purpose of the AFSS. The GPG goes on to state:

A further assessment and inspection by a competent fire safety practitioner [Accredited Practitioners (Fire Safety)] is required once the rectification is undertaken, to ensure the required standard of performance is being achieved prior to the competent fire safety practitioner [Accredited Practitioners (Fire Safety)] endorsing the fire safety statement and the building owner being able to complete and issue the fire safety statement” (GPG4 page 17)

If a 3rd party is engaged to complete repairs and they are not accredited, or accredited but unwilling to assess & endorse the measure for the AFSS, then the owners will need to engage another Accredited Practitioner (they can use Civil Fire) to assess & endorse the measure after the repairs have been completed. This will attract additional fees, and has the potential to blow-out the timeline for AFSS submission (read point 2 below).

Defects relating to paths of travel must be inspected (as opposed to assessed) by an Accredited Practitioner once rectified as clause 175(b) of the EPAR, states that there must be no grounds for prosecution under Division 7 at the time of inspection. Therefore, assessment cannot be undertaken using photos or documentation, or inspection by others.

Building owners should encourage their preferred 3rd party contractors to pursue accreditation as an Accredited Practitioner (Fire Safety).

Key points for owners

  • If using 3rd parties to complete repairs, it is usually simpler & cheaper to ensure that the 3rd party is:
    1. Accredited, and
    2. Willing to endorse the measure/s they are repairing for the AFSS.
  • A separate Accredited Practitioner can be engaged to perform the assessment function (or inspection function in the case of safe passage), AFTER the repairs have been completed if the 3rd party who completed the repairs is not able or willing to endorse the measure. This will attract additional fees, and has the potential to blow-out the timeline for AFSS submission (read point 2 below).
  • Building owners should encourage their preferred 3rd party contractors to pursue accreditation as an Accredited Practitioner (Fire Safety).

2) Fire safety measures can only be endorsed by an FSA once they are capable of perfoming.

Accredited Practitioners can only endorse measures on the AFSS once they capable of performing. The date listed against each measure in Section 4 is the date the Accredited Practitioner assessed the measure as capable of performing (not necessarily the date the annual inspection was carried out).

A work order issued the day before the AFSS falls due does NOT mean the system is capable of performing.

Due to the risk of our Accredited Practitioners being sanctioned for breaching legislation, Civil Fire will not issue an AFSS on receipt of a work order if the defects have the potential of affecting the performance of the system.

Competing repairs takes time. We may need to scope the job in more detail, order parts, organise access with residents, and schedule the repairs when we have suitably skilled technicians available. For this reason, it is crucial that buildings owners get repairs underway as soon as possible. Civil Fire aims to complete run-of-the-mill repairs within four weeks of a work order being received, but for more difficult jobs, or where there are hold-ups waiting on parts or access, we may need more time.

To give building owners as much time as possible to review reports, seek alternative quotes, and have repairs completed, Civil Fire aims to schedule annual inspections as close to 90 days ahead of the AFSS as possible (within the limitations of staffing and individual building requests), and we aim to issue defect quotes within 48 hours of inspection completion. Then it’s up to the owners. Sitting on a defect quote, or taking months to obtain comparative quotes may result in missing the deadline for AFSS submission.

Owners will need to apply for extensions through council where defects remain outstanding past the AFSS due date.

Key points for owners

  • Repairs must be completed (the system capable of performing) before an AFSS can be issued.
  • Completing repairs takes time – we recommend submitting work orders at least 4 weeks ahead of the AFSS due date.
  • Civil Fire aims to maximise the 90-day window so owners have plenty of time to review our report, and seek comparative quotes.
  • Owners can apply to council for a ‘stay of PIN’ where defects remain outstanding past the AFSS due date.

Related post:

  • What is an Annual Fire Safety Statement?

  • What is a fire safety measure?

  • What is a fire safety schedule?

  • Do all buildings need to submit an AFSS?

  • What happens if the AFSS is not submitted?

  • Who can endorse Fire Safety Measures on an AFSS?

  • How often do fire safety measures need to be inspected?

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