News Risk Management29 Aug 2018

New Zealand:Many commercial buildings fail to meet fire safety standards--ICNZ

29 Aug 2018

Many commercial properties are at risk, and also putting lives in danger because they do not comply with fire safety standards, the Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) has warned.

The finger is pointed at the construction industry for deficient work not meeting the standards in the New Zealand Building Code, said a report on ICNZ insurance manager John Lucas said members' inspections and risk surveys were uncovering non-compliant passive fire construction work, and this has been found more in new buildings than old ones.

Passive fire protection is about preventing or slowing the spread of fire and smoke from one area to another and gave the occupants of a building time to get out safely. The said non-compliant work included unprotected penetrations through fire walls and floors, missing smoke dampers in heating and ventilation systems, and fire and smoke control doors that did not seal correctly.

According to Mr Lucas, sprinkler systems are not an issue and are well done.

Limited training and capability for those in passive fire protection

Part of the problem, however, lies in the fact that there are many aspects to passive fire construction and many parties—builders, plumbers, electricians and data cable installers—can do it, but they have not been trained specifically in it.

Leaky buildings brought the deficient work to light when claddings were removed.

?"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,” Mr Lucas was quoted as saying. "This is worrying as so many people live and work in high rise and multi-unit buildings these days.”

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.

The industry has struggled to achieve compliant passive fire protection over the many refurbishments that occur during the life cycle of the building, he said.

While New Zealand enjoys good standards for fire safety and products for passive fire prevention, there is a massive shortage of capability in the construction sector. And when there is a building boom, there is a risk that standards could drop with a shortage of labour, or when staff are in a hurry, said Mr Lucas.

The Insurance Council, with the Auckland Council and the Association of Building Compliance were holding a one-day seminar to debate how New Zealand could improve compliance with fire safety standards. 

Mr Lucas said some wanted passive fire protection to become a specific qualified trade and this was being considered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

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