New inspection demands – but what to inspect?

New requirements call for competent people to do inspections of fire resistant materials, but how to establish what to inspect? A new project will provide answers.

Ministerial Building Standards NBS 002 calls for annual inspections of fire resistant materials (e.g. intumescent paint or fibrous cement like Gyprock) applied to building elements such as beams and columns. For years inspections could be done and documents signed off by the building owner themselves or their representatives, resulting in inspections rarely being conducted.

The new ‘Form 3 – ESP Maintenance Certificate’, which was introduced earlier this year, states that only competent people are to perform inspections and sign off documents, but apparently a vast number of building owners are creatures of habit.

Doing as they usually do, unassuming building owners sign the documents off themselves and submit the documents to the Council, but now they are responded to with the unexpected question: Is the person signing off the documents competent?

If not, building owners will need to contact a representative from within the fire protection maintenance industry to have a qualified inspection conducted. Fire and Emergency Services South Australia Pty Ltd are suitably qualified in this industry.

However, in spite of their expertise the fire protection professionals can be facing a significant challenge: What to inspect? Determining what are fire resistant materials can’t be done with the naked eye, but there are three ways to determine what needs to be inspected.

  1. If the building owner can provide the as constructed drawings showing where treatments have been applied the inspection can be easily conducted. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
  2. Engage a fire engineer to do a review of the building identifying potential fire resistant materials and then inspect them to ensure they are not damaged. If damaged, the relevant material needs to be tested to establish what it is and what to replace it with.
  3. To actually test the materials applied to the building elements. Have a fire engineer inspect the site to advise on individual elements i.e. paint that can be tested for being intumescent. Should the paint turn out to be intumescent, the next step is to potentially repair it with like material and continue to inspect for damage in years to come.

Option 1 is by far the cheapest and most accurate, whereas both option 2 and 3 require a fire engineer and testing to be done by a third party. That process can cost thousands of dollars and involves the risk of not finding all fire-resistant materials applied.

The Fire Protection Association of Australia is conducting a project aiming to determine the best way to set the baseline information if as constructed plans are not present. The project is expected to be finalised and signed off by the different stakeholders in March 2022.

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