Building maintenance: what are your obligations?

Q&A

Building maintenance: what are your obligations?

What obligations do organisations have for maintaining lifts, fire safety systems and other services at the building where their employees work?

What obligations do organisations have for maintaining lifts, fire safety systems and other services at the building where their employees work?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Under our 'duty of care' to employees our organisation is looking to ascertain that our building services – namely, lifts, air conditioning, automated fire detection and suppression systems, building residual-current device (RCD) testing and 'whole building' emergency evacuation testing – are fit-for-purpose and maintained in accordance with regulations. 

What are the commercial tenancy building owner’s obligations to maintain and provide for inspection certifications as fit-for-purpose?

A This is a complicated issue. Here are some general comments to guide you:

Inspection and maintenance 

Building owners’ obligations to properly maintain building services and provide certification for inspections varies according to the type and use of the building, the state or territory where the building is located and the type of building service in question. 

In general, all buildings must comply with the relevant building regulations at the time of construction, and maintenance of a building is the responsibility of the building owner. Landlords must ensure that rented or leased premises are maintained in good repair, whether the building is used for residential or non-residential commercial purposes. 

Details of legislative requirements differ across the states and territories. 

Lifts

Applicable requirements in relation to the minimum and mandatory compliance standards for lifts are documented in work health and safety legislation, disability discrimination legislation, state environmental planning legislation, national construction codes, the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and Australian and New Zealand Standards.

Air conditioning

In general, landlords have a duty to ensure that appliances and facilities such as air-conditioners (and sinks, baths, etc) are in proper working order.

Automated fire detection and suppression systems

The BCA requires building owners to install fire safety systems in all buildings, including existing buildings. These include the installation of smoke alarms. In New South Wales, building certifiers will generally require a smoke detector compliance certificate (provided by the electrician who installed the detectors) before issuing an occupation certificate.

In certain circumstances, sprinklers or other fire suppression systems are required in shared accommodation buildings. In NSW, under environmental planning and assessment regulations, automatic fire sprinklers must be installed in residential aged care facilities.

Standards applicable to buildings vary depending on their classification under the BCA. 

Fire-fighting equipment and fire suppression systems must be provided and maintained in accordance with any occupancy permit or determination issued by a building surveyor. A building notice or building order issued by a municipal building surveyor may also require maintenance to be undertaken.

In some states, the chief fire officer of the fire brigade may also audit buildings to ensure certain fire safety requirements are met.

In Victoria, the Building Act 1993 empowers local councils to take enforcement action in relation to buildings to ensure compliance with these standards. This includes the power to make a building notice or order against a building that is unfit for occupation or is a danger to health, safety or life, regardless of time of construction.

Building RCD testing

In most states and territories, under work health and safety legislation, a person with management of a workplace must make sure that RCDs used at work are tested regularly by a competent person to ensure they are working effectively. 

A record of testing (other than push button testing) must be kept until the device is next tested or disposed of.

'Whole building' emergency evacuation testing

In most states and territories, under work health and safety legislation, a person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure an emergency plan is prepared and that it provides for evacuation procedures and the testing of those procedures. It is advisable to keep records of the testing, to demonstrate compliance with this requirement.

Resources and references

Relevant authorities in the various states and territories provide guidance material that can answer some of the questions in relation to building owners’ obligations to properly maintain building services and provide certification for inspections. 

In relation to fire detection and suppression systems, for example, the Queensland government provides a Commissioning and maintenance fire safety installation guideline, to assist with achieving compliance with the Building Act 1975 and the Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008. This provides, among other things, information on the frequency of testing of selected passive fire safety installations. 
 
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