Building occupancy permits
We are seeing some problems with construction completion and Building occupancy permits (OP). How is this even a getting as far as us?
Proper chain of events
Here is what should happen.
- Building design is completed, checked and approved. (properly engineered and code compliant)
- Selected builder drafts building permit application. Approval is sought from local government (Council)
- Once building permit is approved the builder gets cracking. Free-issue materials (generally specially designed items) are accepted from the owner, other materials are procured as required and construction proceeds in accordance with the drawings.
- A registered builder surveyor (RBS) makes inspection as necessary, engaging specialist inspectors as required.
- Once compliant completion is confirmed the RBS signs the Occupancy Permit (OP) which includes the ongoing maintenance obligations (MD) to keep the Essential Safety Measures (ESM) in operable condition.
- Handover to owner is completed. This should included baseline documentation on the Essential Safety Measures equipment.
- The Owner, or Owners’ Coporation, engages a contractor such as us, often involving a Facilities manager, to perform some or all of the ESM inspection and maintenance obligations, on an ongoing basis.
Everything hinges on the OP. It is a key document. It is evidence of building completion and proper compliance; compliance with building regulations and codes as well as the owner’s approved drawings.
Now, consider the case where the RBS has conducted inadequate inspection and verification prior to signing the OP. In recent cases publicised in the media, a number of Victorian building surveyors have been de-registered for failing to discharge this responsibility properly. One arm of local government affected by this is the planning department of various local councils. We have recently come across the fallout of a couple of these cases. The council in question has investigated other OPs signed off by the, now de-registered, building surveyor, and have found building deficiencies that were overlooked. The Council has conducted it’s own inspections and are now requiring that Owners’ Corporations rectify these defects. Whether there is an opportunity for re-dress with the original builder is not known to us, but the council is probably not waiting for resolution on that point before compulsorily demanding defect remediation.
One new client has a 15 yo building, The Facility Manager has carefully kept (or gathered) correspondence relevant to the original OP. This includes a letter dated only a few weeks before the OP was signed by an independent inspector who checked some aspects of the then new building. This report indicated (amongst other comments) that fire alarm speakers installed in the building were of insufficient cone diameter and proximity to achieve the prescribed 56 dB(A) at the bedhead of a sleeping occupant, and advised that, in this case, speakers bigger than 6″ need to be installed above the bed in each bedroom in the building. The OP was signed very shortly thereafter. Our concerned FM was keen to understand if the prescribed alterations had been complied with and if not, could we now quote to do so, that is, install the bigger speakers described in the inspectors’ letter.
Our initial investigation indicates that
(a) no larger speakers have been installed and
(b) the 56 dB(A) may not match the current requirement, and may not even have been the correct figure 15 years ago.
Further code and BCA investigation is required.
We have quoted and won a job to upgrade fire alarm speakers in the bedroom of a multi unit dwelling. We duly went along and installed the necessary speakers, removing some of those originally installed. On speaking with some of the tenants we found that our work is a rectification that the Council has recently imposed. Residents have been living in this 5 year old building without mishap until earlier this year when a number of Council initiated demands for rectification have hit the Owners’ Corporation – apparently out of the blue. We suspected this might be a sign of a de-registered building surveyor? Sure enough, the name was one that has been mentioned in the press.
Other Safety Equipment upgrades in existing buildings
Following the Grenfell fire disaster in London, it seems that Victorian State planners have been re-visiting occupant safety in the existing public housing stock in Melbourne. This is generating a bunch of upgrade projects, which the State Planning Minister is proud to describe in his electoral newsletter.
All good stuff.
We’ll keep you posted on more of these issues as we come across them.