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MBIE Fire Programme creeps toward closure

FireNZ Magazine, September 2017

Further consultation is required before changes are made to complex regulations that have left many in the fire protection industry confused about rules and responsibilities, writes Keith Newman.


MBIE has received over 50 submissions to the latest round of consultation in its Fire Programme: fire safety regulations for buildings. Two thirds of them have come from Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) and engineering consultants.

The MBIE Fire Safety programme mostly provides “adjustments and rebalancing” to simplify and support the way fire design is currently performed, or to “facilitate a shift towards how it should be performed”. A summary of the latest results of the full Fire Programme will be published in October.

Consultation completing Stage 1 of the Fire Programme related to the following proposals which, states MBIE, are aimed at making fire safety requirements easier to understand and apply, promoting innovation in fire safety engineering and design, and supporting collaboration between building professionals:

  • Proposal 1: modification to Building Code clause C3.4 for internal surface finishes
  • Proposal 2: modification to Building Code clause C6 for structural performance in fire conditions
  • Proposal 3: amending the Verification Method C/VM2 for fire safety design, including a module for high rise buildings
  • Proposal 4: guidance providing a framework for Alternative Solutions

“There was general support for the proposal to remove the specifics from the New Zealand Building Code performance clause C3.4,” said MBIE, “… and overall support for performance-based fire design as part of Alternative Solutions.”

Responses varied for Structural Performance revisions “with considered thought from structure engineers and fire consultants” seen as positive. Responses also varied in relation to Verification Method C/VM2. Both will require further consideration and sector consultation before being progressed.

Most of the submissions were comprehensive and commented on all four proposals, but only one building owner provided feedback. Groups submitting included the Concrete Association, the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) and the Insurance Council.


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Increased flexibility

The proposals include increased flexibility in the use of internal surface finishes, taking into account fire testing requirements “proportional to risk”, which is of interest to architects, designers, engineers and BCAs.

Clarification was also sought in Building Code requirements for “structural performance” in fire, an area deemed difficult to interpret with uncertainty about whether responsibility fell to a fire or structural engineer.

The consultation sought to inform an update of the Verification Method with more fire safety design safeguards for tall buildings over 60m, clearing the way for more alternative design methods with guidance to support those designs with an easier route to compliance. MBIE wants more safeguards for building occupants and firefighters in specialised areas such as tall buildings.

The New Zealand Fire Service, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), building control officials, architects and international fire engineering experts have worked to develop these proposals.


Rethinking complexity

In 2012 the fire safety clauses of the Building Code (Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 1992) were replaced with six new clauses: C1 to C6 Protection from Fire, seven Acceptable Solutions and a new Verification Method.

These changes were significant and aimed to provide designers, fire engineers and BCAs with better design criteria so fire design could be applied more consistently.

In 2014, MBIE carried out a review to gauge the effectiveness of these changes and whether adjustments or support were needed by those challenged by the revised framework. 

After extensive stakeholder feedback and guidance, it was agreed a number of areas needed improvement. MBIE’s Fire Programme was developed to address the shift to a more performance-based regime as originally intended.

A series of consultations with stakeholders was held to inform proposed changes to the Building Code, the Verification Method, and provide guidance in relation to the Building Act 2004.

MBIE fire engineer Christiane Duncan, will provide an update on the Standards NZ programme initiatives in fire safety (Standards review of NZS 4541) and relevant industry topics, such as combustible aluminium composite panels at the upcoming FireNZ conference.

Meanwhile, the Acceptable Solution (‘new‘ C/AS2) has been drafted and a pilot programme concluded ahead of formal consultation. This follows an agreement as part of the 2015 Fire Programme to merge C/AS2-C/AS7 into a single Acceptable Solution.


Design guide close

MBIE has now released a fifth proposal for consultation of a Design Guide for Residential Community Housing, which closed on 11 September 2017. The guide has been developed based on feedback from the 2012 revised version of Acceptable Solution C/AS1-7.

Concerns were raised that the ‘one size fits all’ approach hadn’t taken into account the differing levels of care and mobility of occupants in residential community housing and their ability to self-evacuate in the event of a fire.

Stakeholders considered this would increase costs and reduce amenity value. The new guide includes categories based on the need of occupants and the level of fire safety.

MBIE received consultation round input from Community Housing Aotearoa, NZ Disability Support Network, Disabled Persons Assembly, Housing NZ, Ministry of Heath, Accessible Properties, the New Zealand Fire Service and building control officials.


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