Many commercial buildings around New Zealand are putting lives and property at risk because they don’t comply with fire safety standards, Insurance Council New Zealand insurance manager John Lucas says.
Mr Lucas became aware of this problem from insurers doing risk surveys, and led an international seminar last month to highlight the issues and work on solutions.
Some risk surveys were uncovering non-compliant passive fire construction work, such as unprotected penetrations through fire-rated walls and floors, missing smoke dampers in heating and ventilation systems, and fire and smoke control doors that did not seal correctly because they were incorrectly specified.
“My discussions with various experts in the fire protection industry and with Building Consent Authority managers confirmed that New Zealand has a potential systemic, passive fire non-compliance problem.
“This is worrying, as so many people live and work in high rise and multi-unit buildings these days,” Mr Lucas says.
Smoke is a silent killer. Passive fire protection is about preventing or slowing the spread of fire and smoke from one tenancy or fire cell to another, and gives the occupants of a building time to safely evacuate.
Trust and confidence
Correctly designed, coordinated, installed and signed-off passive fire systems are paramount to protecting life and reducing economic loss, as well as providing trust and confidence in the construction industry.
“Unfortunately, we have struggled to achieve compliant passive fire protection in many of our new building projects, and to then maintain that compliance in existing buildings due to the many refurbishments that occur over the life cycle of the building,” Mr Lucas says.
The ICNZ is engaging with the construction industry to find some answers to improve passive fire compliance.
The council has partnered with Auckland Council and the Association of Building Compliance (ABC) to host a seminar to explore how fire protection compliance can be improved.
“Some have said that passive fire protection should be subject to a specific licence class.
“Currently, anyone can do work that affects passive fire systems, including builders, plumbers, electricians and data cable installers, but they do not get specific training on it.
“Some have also said that stricter construction monitoring is required. However, this will take time and may cost the construction industry money when budgets are already running away on some projects.
“The seminar will debate these views and work through to some consensus with the audience.”