The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has announced new initiatives to boost the compliance and performance of essential safety measures (ESMs).
ESMs include many parts of a building, some directly related to HVAC systems. For example, air-handling systems for smoke control and mechanical ventilation systems that incorporate a cooling tower or hot or warm water system are both ESMs.
In a Streamline webinar held last month by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), two of Australia’s largest mechanical contractors described the concerning state of play with respect to HVAC and essential safety measures.
“The building occupancy permit states the essential safety measures and standards the building must be maintained to,” said Gary Ward, M.AIRAH, Senior Contracts Manager at Ellis Air Conditioning. “In some cases, the facilities team or manager does not know or have a building occupancy permit.
“Failure to maintain these systems is a particular worry because in a worst-case scenario it could end with the loss of human life.”
The observations were echoed by Pat McManus, National Business Development for Airmaster.
“They don’t have op permits, they definitely don’t have a maintenance determination and fire damper registers,” he said. “And it’s quite a challenge to get them to accept the fact that they’ve got to spend considerable money for what they consider little gain, because they don’t actually get money back for it.”
According to the VBA, the Victorian Statewide Cladding Audit has revealed many deficiencies in the design, approval, installation and maintenance of ESMs in apartment and public buildings since it began in December 2017.
“Through expert analysis of these buildings, responses to fire events such as the NEO200 building fire, and enforcement programs run in partnership with local councils, the VBA has gained unparalleled insight into the performance and compliance of ESMs across the state,” the VBA says.
“Coupled with evidence pointing to widespread confusion over the roles and responsibilities related to ESM maintenance, the VBA has seen firsthand the impacts that sub-standard installation and maintenance can have on public safety and confidence in our built environment.”
In response, the VBA has been working closely with industry to establish Victoria’s first ESM Enhancement Program – a set of initiatives to address public safety, enhance practitioner competency with wet systems, and to promote the importance of effective and compliant ESMs.
AIRAH, the Fire Protection Association of Australia, National Fire Industry Association, AMCA, and the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia are all involved.
Joining them are the City of Melbourne, Country Fire Authority, Fire Rescue Victoria, Victorian Municipal Building Surveyors Group, Strata Communities Australia, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
To give industry and building owners an early preview of some core themes of the Enhancement Program, the VBA has recently produced a guide to the roles and responsibilities associated with ESMs.
“Research will form a solid foundation for the initiatives,” says the VBA, “with the expected launch of a new program aimed at evaluating compliance with ESM requirements under the Building Act.”
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