Australia’s fire protection regulatory environment is currently going through a period of significant evolution, driven by the Lacrosse and Grenfell fires and the shortcomings in enforcement and compliance they exposed.
In the rush to address these problems, it is important to ensure that new and changed regulations have a sound evidentiary basis, and are able to show how and by how much they can improve community fire safety.
That was a driving factor when, three years ago, a group of fire and research organisations came together to investigate the role of fire sprinklers in low- to medium-rise residential buildings. The research was conducted by Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) in partnership with Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia), the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and industry partners.
The results of that research, announced in January and covered on page 47 of this magazine, are now being used to guide recommendations for regulatory reform in a new Proposal for Change to the 2019 National Construction Code, jointly submitted by FRNSW, AFAC and FPA Australia.
The Proposal calls for sprinkler protection to be mandatory in all new Class 2 and 3 residential buildings above three storeys and under 25 metres in height, and provides two new cost-effective designs as options to traditional sprinkler standards. These buildings are some of the most vulnerable in Australia, and their numbers continue to increase as urban density climbs.
Backed by the research, the Proposal clearly shows how sprinklers can fill this fire safety gap. It does this with a recommendation for system and design requirements that, on one side, drastically slow or halt the spread of fire to provide safe egress or rescue, and on the other side are affordable and even attractive to developers, thereby increasing their likelihood of adoption.
What is clear from the research is that the speed of fire growth in modern residences is dramatically faster than 50 years ago due to synthetic furnishings, and residential sprinklers could therefore be the most important improvement in fire safety since the introduction of mandatory smoke alarms.
It is a fantastic example of how the fire protection industry can work together to contribute to and encourage the adoption of best-practice, evidence-based, practical regulation. Advocating for the continuous improvement of legislation, codes and standards is a core mission for FPA Australia, and in future we hope to use more research like this to further that goal.
For more information, go to www.fpaa.com.au