In a week where another major United Arab Emirates skyscraper has turned into a towering inferno, Standards Australia releasing a new standard for fire propagation testing and classification of external walls of buildings is extremely timely.
The AS 5113 standard sets out procedures for testing and classification of external walls according to their tendency to limit the spread of fire across their surface and between neighbouring buildings. It can be applied to external vertical surfaces and external wall systems. It integrates international standard test methods where practicable.
The Fire Protection Association of Australia welcomed the standard, and said it hoped to see it made mandatory. The FPAA and the Australian Building Codes Board were both part of the committee that developed the standard.
“We fully support its adoption into the Building Code of Australia as a mandatory requirement for external walls under the deemed to satisfy provisions of the code or referenced within a verification method,” FPAA chief executive Scott Williams said.
“The association is confident that, by referencing the standard, the Australian Building Codes Board will be taking a constructive step towards addressing life safety issues for future buildings.”
Mr Williams said the standard could also be used as part of a fire safety engineering strategy to address issues with existing buildings found to have non-compliant or non-conforming external cladding installed.
“The association would also like to see the provisions in Clause A2.2 of the BCA regarding to Evidence of Suitability tightened to remove some less robust alternatives and ensure that the testing of these types of products by registered testing authorities becomes the rule, rather than the exception, as it has often been in Australia.”
A spokesman for Standards Australia said the standard could be applied at all stages of the building design stage, but in the longer term it would be more likely be used by manufacturers and suppliers prior to release of products and at the specification stage.
The spokesman said it was not necessarily going to become a mandatory part of the National Construction Code. While the states and territories generally require compliance with the NCC and BCA, the BCA does not mandate one particular path for compliance, he said, provided it is demonstrated that the performance requirements have been satisfied.
“So it is closest to an optional performance standard.”
Ultimately, the decision on whether to reference it in the code will be made by the ABCB, he said.
Independent chair of the Fire Safety Technical Committee that developed the standard, Paul England, said the standard would also lead to improved energy efficiency outcomes.
“The standard will facilitate quantification of performance in the area of fire safety consistent with ABCB initiatives. It will assist with the compliance of the energy efficiency requirements of the NCC whilst contributing to the maintenance of acceptable levels of public safety,” Mr England said.
The spokesman for Standards Australia said that there were many innovative façade systems that could enhance the energy efficiency of buildings, though some of these were also combustible.
“The development of a standard for testing and classification of the fire safety performance of these systems will facilitate the appropriate use of the systems,” he said.
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