Fire safety jeopardised by new Victorian plumbing regulations

by Tiffany Paczek
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The Victorian Government’s recent amendment to plumbing regulations will threaten the fire safety of the state’s buildings, as well as the jobs of thousands of Victorians.

Under the new Plumbing Regulations 2018, thousands of individuals currently employed to conduct routine service on fire hydrant systems and fire hose reel systems will no longer be able to do this work. The new regulations now require this work be carried out by registered plumbers.

Fire hydrants and hose reels are essential elements of the safety systems that protect buildings and occupants from fire. The vast majority of these are currently serviced by experienced and trained individuals in the fire protection industry, as well as thousands of members of the Country Fire Authority (CFA), who do not hold the registration required under the new regulations.

Victoria now faces a chronic shortfall in the availability of individuals permitted to service these fire protection systems when the new regulations come into effect on 19 November 2018. Only a small segment of registered plumbers currently holds units of competence relevant to fire hydrant and hose reel routine servicing. Filling this gap in people with both appropriate training and the now-required registration could take decades.

“FPA Australia is extremely disappointed and concerned that these new regulations will increase the life safety risk of Victorians. There aren’t enough competent people to go around under the new regulations, and some Victorians may miss out on having the systems that protect them from fire properly maintained,” says Scott Williams, CEO of Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia), the peak body for the fire protection industry.

“This is the last thing the community needs while it is already facing risks from combustible cladding on buildings across the state, the result of another regulatory failure.

“The changed regulations also put in jeopardy the jobs of thousands of Victorians, many of whom have been providing high quality fire protection services for decades. This will have a downstream economic impact on thousands of businesses.”

While the Plumbing Regulations 2018 have been positioned as a continuation of the status quo, they are based on the fundamentally incorrect assumption that plumbers currently conduct the majority of routine service on fire hydrant systems and fire hose reel systems in Victoria. This assumption was wrong.

FPA Australia formally provided advice to the contrary to the Minister for Planning, Hon Richard Wynne, as part of the public comment process and Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for the new regulations, however this advice was ignored.

“This change has fundamentally ignored input from the industry, and has been made without any evidence to suggest it will improve safety outcomes, while putting thousands of people out of work,” says Williams.

In the RIS, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning admitted it was unable to find evidence to justify the change.

“The department has not been able to obtain evidence of any differences in adverse safety outcomes depending on whether routine servicing work has been undertaken by registered plumbers or unregistered providers,” the Department said in the statement.

Under the new Plumbing Regulations 2018, routine service work on fire sprinkler systems is also required to be conducted by individuals holding a sprinkler fitting registration. This has not changed from previous regulations. FPA Australia supports Victoria’s requirements for sprinkler service to be conducted by qualified sprinkler fitters.

The Association calls on the Victorian Government to urgently amend the new regulations in order to uphold community safety, protect the employment of thousands, and avoid significant impacts on the Victorian economy.

Image: 123RF’s Brian Jackson © 123RF 

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