Inner West Council is required to enforce that fire safety standards exist in all buildings.
Fire safety is the responsibility of all property owners, property managers, tenants, and business operators who own, occupy or manage buildings in the area ranging from various types of residential properties to commercial, retail and industrial premises.
It is your responsibility as a building owner to ensure that:
- All fire safety measures are inspected by a properly qualified person or persons to ensure the measures are being maintained to the appropriate standard of performance;
- Fire Safety Statements are displayed in a clearly visible prominent position inside the building such that Council or NSW Fire and Rescue officers can see them when inspecting the premises; and
- All exit doors are kept in good working condition, and corridors or other paths of egress are kept clear of any obstructions.
These measures aim to prevent the spread of fire and to save property and lives.
The NSW Fire and Rescue website also has valuable information about home fire safety including a fire safety checklist
Smoke alarm regulations
The Building Legislation Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Act 2005 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Smoke Alarms) Regulation 2006 commenced in NSW on 1 May 2006. The legislation refers to residential and certain shared accommodation across NSW and requires:
- the installation of one or more smoke alarms in buildings in which persons sleep;
- smoke alarms installed in such buildings must be operational; and
- persons do not remove or interfere with the operation of smoke alarms installed in such buildings.
Do you live in or own...
- detached houses, terrace houses, town houses, villa units (Class 1a buildings).
- apartments, home units, flats (Class 2 buildings).
- caretakers flats, single residences above shops (Class 4 parts of buildings).
- relocatable homes, e.g. manufactured homes and moveable dwellings, but not tents, camper vans, caravans or the like.
Boarding houses/shared accommodation
- small boarding houses, guest houses, hostels; backpackers accommodation; bed and breakfast accommodation (Class 1b buildings not more than 12 persons with a total floor area not exceeding 300m²).
- large boarding houses, guest houses, hostels, backpacker accommodation; residential parts of hotels, motels, schools, health care buildings, detention centres; certain residential accommodation for the aged, children and people with disabilities (Class 3 buildings more than 12 persons).
- hospitals and nursing homes (Class 9a health care buildings).
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then the laws apply to you and you must have a minimum of one working smoke alarm on each level of your property.
The state government allows building owners to install either hard-wired smoke alarms, or ones that are battery-only operated in certain existing buildings. However, the Regulation amendment does not override a local council's role under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979 when Council has to consider a development application where changes are proposed to existing buildings.
The Regulation amendment does not override the need for a new building or an addition/alteration to an existing building to comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA). Construction certificates and complying development certificates for building work cannot be issued unless the proposed works demonstrate compliance with the BCA. The Regulation amendment also does not prevent a Council from issuing a fire safety upgrading order on a building to which the Regulation amendment applies, because if an existing building is subject to a current order, the Regulation amendment does not override that order.
If any residential premises (i.e. dwelling, unit, hotel, motel, boarding house, backpackers etc.) ever comes under the scrutiny of Council through an application that is submitted such as a development application, complying development certificate, building certificate, etc., then that application will be subject to an assessment under the BCA. If that occurs then the requirements of the BCA will be applied to that assessment and it will be insisted at that time that the BCA requirements for a “hard-wired” smoke alarm system compatible with that particular building use be provided.
Similarly, these same requirements will be applied to buildings that Council audits for fire safety purposes and then follows-up with the issuing of a fire safety order. Basically, more stringent BCA requirements will be applied to any buildings that attract Council's involvement for any sort of assessment or audit.
Fire safety certificates
A final fire safety certificate is a certificate which is issued at the initial stage of the installation of the essential fire safety measures either as a result of a fire order or new building construction works.
The certificate is usually supplied by the contractor for the installation of the works to Council prior to the building being occupied.
A final fire safety certificate is only required:
- before the issue of a final occupation certificate under clause 153(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000; and
- if a fire safety order has been issued in relation to a building or premises.
A copy of the fire safety certificate is also to be forwarded to NSW Fire and Rescue and a copy must be kept on-site in a prominent location within the building.
Essential fire safety measures
Essential fire safety measures are any measures that are installed in a building to ensure the safety of persons using the building in the event of fire. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 contains a list of statutory fire safety measures that have been incorporated into the building to ensure the safety of the occupants within the building in the event of a fire or other emergency, including:
- Access panels, doors and hoppers to fire-resisting shafts
- Automatic fail-safe devices
- Automatic fire detection and alarm systems
- Automatic fire suppression systems
- Emergency lifts
- Emergency lighting
- Emergency warning and intercommunication systems
- Exit signs
- Fire control centres and rooms
- Fire dampers
- Fire doors
- Fire hydrant systems
- Fire seals protecting openings in fire-resisting components of the building
- Fire shutters
- Fire windows
- Fire hose reels
- Lightweight construction
- Mechanical air handling systems
- Perimeter vehicle access for emergency vehicles
- Portable fire extinguishers
- Safety curtains in proscenium openings
- Smoke and heat vents
- Smoke dampers
- Smoke detectors and heat detectors
- Smoke doors/solid core doors
- Standby power systems
- Wall-wetting sprinkler and drencher systems
- Warning and operational signs
In the majority of cases, building regulation such as the Building Code of Australia (BCA) requires the installation of essential fire safety measures.
Council may request other items of equipment or methods of construction, not part of a typical list of essential fire safety measures, to ensure the safety of persons in a building in the event of fire, or the prevention of fire or to prevent the spread of fire.
Council may require the installation of essential fire safety measures or the fire safety upgrading of buildings in the following instances:
Development Applications for building works
When a Development Application for works involving the rebuilding, alteration, enlargement or extension of an existing building is submitted to Council for approval, the application will be assessed for compliance with current building regulations (i.e. the BCA). Council will determine and nominate the essential fire safety measures to be installed as required by the regulations and will inform the applicant via placing conditions on the development consent. At this same stage, pursuant to Clause 94 of the Environment Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, Council also has ultimate discretion to decide whether it would be appropriate to require the existing part/s of the building to also be brought into total or partial conformity with the BCA.
Development Applications for change of use
Where the use of an existing building is proposed to be changed, but the applicant does not seek the rebuilding, alteration, enlargement or extension of the building, Council must still consider the consequences to the safety of persons proposed to occupy the building as a result in the change of circumstances and purpose for which the building will function. In considering the change of use, Council will determine and nominate any essential fire safety measures that are needed to be installed, thereby requiring building work to be carried out even though none is proposed as part of the application.
Annual fire safety statements
All building owners and property managers must maintain essential fire safety measures in their buildings, as outlined in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.
There is no requirement to submit an annual fire safety statement for single dwelling houses classified under 1a under the Building Code of Australia. Typically, Class 1a refers to single dwelling houses, terraces or villa houses. If in doubt, ask.
Clause 182 of the Regulation requires the owner of a building maintain each essential fire safety measure in that building in accordance with relevant standards of performance, and those standards are usually nominated by Council or an accredited certifier in a previous development consent, construction certificate or complying development certificate, or a previous fire safety order that was issued upon that property.
This clause places ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of fire safety measures on the building owner.
Apart from legal requirements, other vital reasons for maintaining fire safety measure include:
- to ensure safety of building occupants;
- to preserve the function and performance of fire safety systems and equipment;
- to maintain and protect assets – proper preventative maintenance can save money; and
- to avoid business interruption and disruption to activities/operations in the event of fire.
An annual fire safety statement is a statement issued by or on behalf of the owner of a building to the effect that:
a) each essential fire safety measure specified in the statement has been assessed by a properly qualified person and was found, when it was assessed, to be capable of performing:
i) in the case of an essential fire safety measure applicable by virtue of a fire safety schedule, to a standard no less than that specified in the schedule, or
ii) in the case of an essential fire safety measure applicable otherwise than by virtue of a fire safety schedule, to a standard no less than that to which the measure was originally designed and implemented, and
b) the building has been inspected by a properly qualified person and was found, when it was inspected, to be in a condition that did not disclose any grounds for a prosecution under Division 7 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000.
Generally what will happen every year is that you may have several different contractors attending the premises at specific intervals throughout the year to provide a maintenance service for several different fire safety measures.
Each contractor should then give you some type of certification in relation to the assessment they have carried out, listing the specific measure/s they have serviced and referencing a particular Standard of Performance that the installed measure is achieving. Once you have obtained and gathered all this together, you are then required to consolidate all this information and transfer it collectively onto the one document known as an annual fire safety statement.
An annual fire safety statement for a building must deal with each essential fire safety measure in the building premises.
It must be submitted within 12 months after the date on which the previous statement or the final fire safety certificate was given, and it must be lodged within 3 months of the date of inspection and assessment. The statement must be submitted to Council and the Commissioner of NSW Fire and Rescue.
What will happen if I do not submit an annual fire safety statement?
Council treats fire safety very seriously. Where required under legislation to provide a statement, the owner is responsible to ensure lodgement, regardless as to whether the property is tenanted or vacant.
Please consider the following:
- Incomplete or late fire safety statements may result in a fine.
- If the fire safety statement is not completed satisfactorily you will be required to submit a corrected statement.
- Failure to provide an annual/supplementary fire safety statement can result in on-the-spot fines ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 per week.
- If a fine is issued, it will not excuse you from the need to submit an annual fire safety statement.
- If you fail to meet your statutory requirements, Council will take legal action against you and/or will continue to issue on-the-spot fines. "Failure to maintain essential fire safety measures" (which is a separate offence) can also result in a fine. The penalty in this instance is $1,500 and Council will impose this as necessary.
All fire safety measures listed on the annual fire safety statement and fire safety schedule including egress paths and exits must be maintained at all times even when the building becomes vacant and in the event of fire.
Vacant Buildings should also be the subject of regular security checks and ongoing maintenance to prevent the premises falling into disrepair and possible unauthorised access by squatters and vandals. Maintaining the fire safety measures and ongoing maintenance will promote the safety of persons who are nearby the premises or who access vacant buildings (e.g. security, NSW Fire and Rescue, police, building owners, Council staff, real estate agents, etc.).
A fire safety schedule will be issued with the construction certificate listing the essential fire safety measures that are to be installed in the building. A fire safety certificate must be submitted prior to the issue of an occupation certificate. This certifies that each of the specified essential fire safety measures are capable of operating to the performance listed in the fire safety schedule. Subsequently, an annual fire safety statement must then be issued every year.
Old buildings and buildings built before current Building Code of Australia standards are not exempt from fire safety requirements, and it is the obligation of the owner to ensure that sufficient fire safety measures are in place.
It is necessary for owners to work with Council to achieve acceptable fire safety compliance and to undertake voluntary upgrades as needed by engaging the services of private fire safety consultants and engineers. Where current BCA compliance is not achievable without substantial demolition and/or redevelopment, alternative solutions may be proposed to council by accredited professionals who have undertaken a detailed assessment of the building.
Owners of heritage buildings can contact the Heritage Council of NSW for guidance with fire safety compliance.
Aged care facilities
In August 2012, the NSW Government announced it would become mandatory for all residential aged care facilities to have an automatic sprinkler system installed. The new laws include the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Fire Sprinkler Systems) Regulation 2012, the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) Amendment (Fire Sprinkler Systems) 2012 and the Fire Sprinkler Standard.
The NSW Government encouraged all facilities without a sprinkler system to install them as soon as possible to improve the safety of residents. Existing facilities were required to install a sprinkler system within 18 months, however some providers may have requested three years to complete the installation. For more information see the NSW Planning and Environment website – Fire sprinklers in aged care facilities.
Boarding houses (BH) – Class 1B and Class 3 buildings
An annual boarding house (BH) inspection program is operating to ensure that all approved and known places of shared accommodation (boarding houses) are inspected, regulated and also subject to inspection fees.
These premises either have consent/approval (development application, building applications, construction certificates) and/or previous repealed Ordinance 42 Local Government Act 1993 licenses. Please note that BH premises are no longer licensed under Ordinance 42.
Council officers will conduct inspections of boarding houses either unannounced or by appointment depending on the circumstance and risk factors. Council assesses the premises for compliance and adequacy with the requirements of the Building Code of Australia, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, and the Local Government Act 1993, which refer to such things as the number of boarders/rooms, light and ventilation, kitchen facilities, general cleanliness and hygiene, fittings and fixtures, furniture, consent requirements to ensure compliance with the approval, and – in particular – fire safety.
If problems are found during the inspection, a fire safety notice can be issued by Council. This will normally be followed by an order requiring the owner or operator to meet their obligations with respect to fire safety requirements. Council officers can also give on the spot penalties to individuals who commit fire safety offences. The building owner is responsible to ensure that all required fire safety measures installed within the boarding house are maintained so they work at the required standard during a fire emergency. Every boarding house is required to have suitable fire safety measures.
Each year boarding house owners are required by regulation to provide an annual fire safety statement (AFSS) to Council and to NSW Fire and Rescue.
The implementation of good fire safety management practices which involves the owner, operator, manager, agent and occupants can reduce the likelihood of an outbreak and impact of fire.
Planning/zoning requirements as to where boarding houses can be permitted are regulated by Council's local environmental plans (LEPs). The type of construction and level of fire safety is regulated by the BCA (Building Code of Australia). Council's controls, plans and policies provide an urban planning framework to guide development in the local government area. Planning controls can be in the form of LEPs, development control plans (DCPs), State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) such as the Affordable Rental Housing SEPP 2009, as well as Council-specific codes, strategies and policies.
The following provides an overview of the Boarding House Act 2012:
- The Boarding House Act 2012 (BHA) and the Boarding House Regulations 2013 was passed as a whole-of-government response to concerns about the rights and safety of people living in boarding houses.
- The BHA requires operators of two types of boarding houses to register their boarding house with NSW Fair Trading. The 2 types of boarding houses that need to be registered are:
- "general" boarding houses – boarding premises of 5 or more residents, and
- "assisted" boarding houses – boarding premises where 2 or more residents have "additional needs".
Once boarding houses have been registered with Fair Trading, councils must inspect the premises within 12 months. The BHA provides councils with new powers to gain access to boarding houses in order to conduct the initial compliance inspection. The inspection is to ensure the premises comply with the council's own policies and existing laws including the Local Government Act 1993 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPAA).
The following links provide information concerning boarding houses:
For additional information please visit:
- NSW Legislation
- NSW Fire and Rescue (smoke alarm information)
- NSW Fair Trading
- Housing NSW
- Department of Family and Community Services (FACS)
- Tenants NSW
- Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
- Homelessness NSW
Classification of boarding houses – National Construction Code, Building Code of Australia
i. a boarding house, guest house, hostel or the like:
A. with a total area of all floors not exceeding 300 m² measured over the enclosing walls of the Class 1b; and
B. in which not more than 12 persons would ordinarily be resident; or
ii. 4 or more single dwellings located on one allotment and used for short-term holiday accommodation, which are not located above or below another dwelling or another Class of building other than a private garage.
a residential building, other than a building of Class 1 or 2, which is a common place of long term or transient living for a number of unrelated persons, including:
a. a boarding house, guest house, hostel, lodging house or backpackers accommodation; or
b. a residential part of a hotel or motel; or
c. a residential part of a school; or
d. accommodation for the aged, children or people with disabilities; or
e. a residential part of a health-care building which accommodates members of staff; or
f. a residential part of a detention centre
Fire safety upgrade orders
As part of its internal fire safety upgrading program, Council may, at any time, assess the fire safety level of an existing building and if it is considered necessary, order the owner/s to carry out upgrading works and install essential fire safety measures compatible to the building use and inherent with the risks involved as part of an overall risk management strategy.
What am I required to do?
If you have existing essential fire safety measures in your building and:
- intend to carry out work for which development consent or a Complying Development Certificate is required, or
- intend to change the use of the building for which consent is required.
A suitably qualified competent person should be engaged in order to research and verify the design standards to which those measures were originally installed. Once this has been undertaken, verification in the form of a fire safety audit report is to be forwarded to Council's Assessments department. Assuming approval is granted, Council will nominate (via either consent conditions and/or a fire safety schedule), any additional essential fire safety measures required in the building and the appropriate design standard to which they must be installed.
If you intend to construct a new building, approval is required from Council. Forming part of any consent that is granted, Council will nominate the essential fire safety measures required and the design standards to which they must be installed.
A pyrotechnician's licence or fireworks (single-use) licence is issued by SafeWork NSW by way of legislation known as the Explosives Regulation 2005. The Regulation requires that as a condition of each licence issued, that the licensee must notify SafeWork NSW and Council of an intention to use any fireworks, distress signal or model rocket propellant device at least 7 working days before the fireworks, signal or device is to be used.
While Council must be given notice, Council has no power to approve the use of fireworks – however Council may object to or impose conditions on their use. After receiving notification of the intended use of fireworks, Council may decide to object to the use of the fireworks, and inform the pyrotechnician and SafeWork NSW of this decision. The fireworks display must not proceed unless the licensee has been able to resolve any objections by Council.
Issues that Council may take into consideration when deciding whether to object to or impose conditions may include:
1. Appropriateness of the location, e.g. proximity to residences or hospitals.
2. Reason for the display, e.g. is the display in the public interest?
3. Types of fireworks, e.g. Aerial fireworks may have greater impact on surrounding areas that ground fireworks.
4 .Impact on any affected residents and businesses.
5. Impact on animal welfare.
6. Public liability issues.
9. Public nuisance.
10. Appropriate notification to neighbouring properties. Council may need to decide what it believes to be a reasonable area of coverage for notification, and how this should be done by the applicant, e.g. Letterbox drop, media advertisement.
11. Proposed procedure for disposal of spent fireworks.
12. Whether appropriate crowd and traffic management issues have been addressed where the display is likely to draw crowds.
13. Whether a usage fee is charged in cases where Council land assets are utilised.
14. Any other local conditions that Council may consider relevant.
All these matters are covered by a self-assessment fireworks display checklist, which is available on the SafeWork NSW NSW website.
Council may request the completed checklist to be submitted to assist with review of the notification. In the event of a late notification being received by Council, then either of the following will be done:
- Council will notify SafeWork NSW no less than 2 working days prior to the event that it raises an objection, or
- Council will provide SafeWork NSW with written confirmation that no objections are raised, or
- where Council is unable to provide SafeWork NSW with written confirmation that there are no objections due to the late notification, then Council may object on the grounds that there has been insufficient time to assess the notification.
As parts of the local government area are bounded by maritime property, if any fireworks events are proposed to be held on maritime property then the NSW Waterways Authority must also be contacted and notified of the proposed display, with any approvals to also be obtained, if required. For further information, please contact SafeWork NSW.
External cladding on buildings
Recent high-profile building fires in Melbourne and Grenfell Tower in London have identified concerns and potential risks for buildings that have non-compliant wall cladding which can consist of aluminium composite panels (ACP).
As a building owner, you are responsible for ensuring your premises are maintained, safe for occupation and that essential fire safety measures are in working order.
For further information on actions taken by the NSW Government, details on external wall cladding and next steps for property owners/occupiers, please visit the NSW Fair Trading website or contact Council's fire safety team during business hours.