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The Role of Standards in Fire Risk Management

Standards Australia is the independent and not-for-profit developer of internationally-aligned Australian Standards. In this column, Dr Bronwyn Evans, the Chief Executive Officer of Standards Australia, talks about the role that standards can play in fire risk management.

Every summer, Australians are reminded to be fire-ready by being careful with their open fires, vehicles, machinery and to check their smoke alarms. On days when the weather is very hot, dry and windy, the fire authorities sometimes impose a total fire ban and limits on use of combustion machinery. These are days when the fire danger rating reaches very high levels.

It is with good reason that every Australian understands the gravity of the fire danger season. The Black Friday fires on 13 January 1939 in the state of Victoria razed almost 20,000 square kilometres of land, affecting nearly three-quarters of Victoria. Seventy years later, the Black Saturday bushfires on 7 February 2009 in the same state resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire with 173 dead and 414 injured, over 3,500 buildings and sheds destroyed and 7,562 people displaced.

The role of standards in fire risk management
Due to the sheer scale of the damage that fires can bring, public health authorities face a huge task to develop regulation that actively manages fire risks and protects the population. Often, public health authorities turn to standards in their regulation to provide a baseline level of safety requirements for houses, buildings, machinery and everyday objects.

Standards underpin fire risk management by helping to codify best practices, methods and technical requirements for fire safety. A quick look at our records reveals that Australia has over 600 current standards, technical reports and handbooks related to fire protection, safety, risk assessment and mitigation, and fire hazard testing for materials and appliances.

The standards we have developed span a wide range of issues and topics. For example, an Australian Standard that specifically aims to help manage fire risk is AS 4655-2005 Fire Safety Audits. The Standard sets out minimum requirements for the auditing of fire safety measures in a facility against specific criteria to help users to gauge the suitability of their fire safety measures.

The personal safety of our nearest and dearest is emphasised in the Joint Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1249:2014 Children’s nightwear and limited daywear having reduced fire hazard. Containing flammability tests and garment labelling requirements for clothing manufacturers, the Standard aims to inform consumers about the fire hazard of different types of children’s clothing.

We also develop standards for those at the front line. The Joint Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4821:2014 Protective footwear for firefighters – Requirements and test methods provides minimum performance requirements so that firefighters’ footwear does not melt or ignite when exposed to flame. This is an adoption of the European standard EN 15090:2012 with some modifications for the Australian context.

We update our standards continually to take into account the latest technologies, such as in smoke detection systems. Well-maintained smoke alarms can greatly reduce fire risks and are an integral part of fire protection systems. The 2015 edition of the Australian Standard AS 3786:2015 Smoke alarms using scattered light, transmitted light or ionization specifies requirements, test methods and criteria for all smoke alarms covered by this Standard. It also includes requirements for optional functions, such as sound output patterns (an option for the hearing-impaired) and extended temperature-range tests for smoke alarms installed in areas with a greater temperate range. This edition brings the Australian Standard in line with international standards and gives due consideration to Australia’s specific environmental needs.

Regional and international harmonisation of standards
Fire safety is a critical issue that affects us all. It requires coordination and consultation across all states in a country to establish a harmonised set of rules and regulation.

Following Black Saturday, the state governments of Australia worked together to implement a new Australian fire danger rating and national bushfire warning system in October 2009. The system now includes a “Catastrophic” level (“Code Red” in Victoria) to help identify those situations where fires will spread so quickly that they present a critical threat to life and safety. The new system also acts as a trigger for the level of advice provided to the community when a fire starts.

This was an important step towards a national fire safety and warning system, and it is my belief that continued work on harmonised standards will help to strengthen and support the relevant regulation in this area.

On the global level, it is equally important for countries to work together to share best practices and technology. International standards development bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have brought together people from all over the world to develop important standards for fire safety and protection. Closer to home, the Pacific Area Standards Congress (PASC) convene yearly to discuss standardisation issues specific to the Asia-Pacific region.

In line with Standards Australia’s goal is to develop internationally-aligned standards as far as possible, we are proud to represent Australia at international meetings at ISO, IEC and PASC.

Standards Australia’s work would not have been possible without the numerous technical experts that make up our technical committees. We have 15 technical committees and 35 working groups on fire-related subjects comprising nearly 340 professionals and experts from the fire safety sector. We are fortunate to have worked with stakeholders such as the Fire Protection Association Australia, the National Fire Industry Association, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association, and the United Firefighters Union of Australia, to name a few.

Our technical committee members have tirelessly contributed their time and invaluable insights to making Australia a safer place by developing standards on fire safety. They deserve our thanks as much as those working at the front line.

About Standards Australia
Founded in 1922, Standards Australia is an independent, not-for-profit organisation, recognised by the Commonwealth Government as the peak non-government Standards development body in Australia. It is charged by the Commonwealth Government to meet Australia’s need for contemporary, internationally-aligned Standards and related services. The work of Standards Australia enhances the nation’s economic efficiency and contributes to community demand for a safe and sustainable environment.

For more information, go to www.standards.org.au

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Dr Bronwyn Evans is Chief Executive Officer, Standards Australia.

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