Significant changes are on the horizon for building standards relating to fire safety, with draft amendments to all building codes expected to be adopted in March 2018 which is outside of the normal 3 year cycle update.

Recent high rise apartment building fires in Australia and overseas have caused concern on the adequacy of standards with regard to fire safety, in particular the fire resistance of external materials used as cladding and facades.

The Australian Building Codes Board has responded to this concern by releasing draft amendments to the National Construction Code (which incorporates the Building Code of Australia). The Code mandates minimum construction standards to be achieved in all buildings in Australia.

The draft amendments to the Code include:
  • The introduction of a new verification method for testing of external wall assemblies for fire spread, by reference to a new Australian Standard for testing;
  • More stringent requirements for sprinkler protection of balconies;
  • Clarifying the language within the Code relating to the use of external wall claddings and attachments; and
  • Revising the evidence of suitability provisions
Other additional measures to address non-compliant use of cladding:
  • Communication of the national ABCB Advisory note – Fire Performance of External Walls and Cladding, which will be updated to reflect any changes associated with the out-of-cycle amendment;
  • Development of an evidence of suitability handbook;
  • Improvements to the CodeMark Australia product certification scheme; and
  • The development of education and training materials.

The Board anticipates finalising and adopting the amendments by March 2018. The scope of the proposed amendments, and the short timetable for their adoption, signpost the growing importance of ensuring that fire safety standards can adapt and respond to evolving building styles and materials.