Following recent tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire in London and the Lacrosse Tower fire in Melbourne, fire safety in the construction industry has become a hot topic, with significant legislative changes set to take effect later this year.

A significant change to the National Construction Code may result in some builders and developers no longer complying with fire safety rules unless they begin using passive fire protection systems that have been tested to the most recent standards.

All new buildings must have passive fire safety systems with a fire resistance level (FRL) that meets the most recent Australian fire test standards, known as AS1530 Part 4 – 2014.

Many systems sold and installed today were fire tested more than 30 years ago and do not provide the protection that modern buildings require.

The original deadline for changes to the National Construction Code 2019 (NCC2019) was 1 May 2022, but a recent update has given the industry a few extra months to prepare, with COVID delaying NCC2022 publication and adoption until 1 September 2022.

What are the changes?

Passive fire protection systems are critical because they are designed to confine a fire to one compartment, “or fire zone,” of a building. This allows people in other fire compartments to safely exit and firefighters to enter in the event of a fire.

The products that comprise these compartments, such as walls, shafts, floors, ceilings, doors, and service penetrations (such as ductwork, electrical and data cables, plumbing, and air conditioning pipes), must be tested to determine their level of fire resistance.

Worryingly, there was no requirement for products (or assemblies) to be retested as fire testing standards were updated to become more stringent prior to the 2019 revision of the NCC.

Prior to the new standards, any new class 2 building, such as a high-rise apartment building, could use test reports from the 1950s to demonstrate compliance with passive fire protection. Manufacturers had no incentive to retest systems to more stringent standards, which stifled product innovation. Only those with access to older fire testing could dominate the market on price, not the efficacy of the systems on offer.

The majority of new construction is being built to NCC2019, which means that on September 1, these buildings must include systems with a Fire Resistance Level (FRL) that complies with AS 1530 Part 4 – 2014, not older versions like 1997 or 2005.

When will the changes take effect?

The change takes effect on September 1, when all new apartments (and other class two buildings) must have passive fire safety systems that have been tested to the most recent standards.

Previously, there was a grandfathering clause that allowed old fire test reports and data to be used for new buildings, but this will now end on September 1st, meaning that uninformed builders or developers may find themselves out of compliance in the middle of a project unless they start using systems that have been fire tested correctly to the new modern-day requirements.