Building Regulations and Fire Safety

Introduction to Fire Safety and Building Regulations

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The NCC outlines the fire safety regulations in Australia, although there can be slight variations at the State level. Each state provides some level of localised guidance on how the regulations should be implemented. The requirements for insulated panel and façade systems across all states however are broadly similar. 

There is separate guidance for non-domestic and domestic buildings which are referenced in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the NCC respectively, and in Volume 1 there is consideration for different types of (residential) occupancy. Within the NCC structure there is fire safety guidance based on the building use or purpose, referred to as the ‘building class’.

Those building classes that are considered to have greater potential levels of risk because of the type of occupancy, such as schools, hospitals and multi-residential buildings, should meet more stringent fire safety requirements for many reasons, including people density, mobility of occupants, and times to exit the building. The NCC thus provides guidelines that are intended to represent a ‘building holistic’ view of safety. 

High rise buildings have more stringent requirements due to the need to be able to evacuate occupants in a safe and timely manner.

Within the NCC in terms of fire performance, there are three key areas that are addressed, which are fire resistance and stability, compartmentation and separation, and protection of openings. Although these three areas are not mutually exclusive, the performance of insulated panels and façade systems falls mainly in the realm of NCC C1. Fire Resistance and Stability, which deals mainly with fire spread via the outside walls of buildings.

The overall level of fire safety in a building varies with the number of storeys and the building usage.

Fire Resistance and Stability

Rise in storeys

Class 2, 3 or 9 building

Class 5,6,7 or 8 building

4 or more

3 A B
2 B C
1 C C

Fire requirements vary according to the ‘type’ of building, or occupancy and use

  • Type A buildings have the highest level of fire regulation stringency
  • Type B buildings have slightly less stringency
  • Type C buildings have the least stringency, and generally of combustible construction


Note : For life safety purposes it takes longer to (a) get occupants out of higher rise buildings, and (b) get occupants of limited or restricted mobility out of buildings


Building Regulation requirements in Australia

Insulated panels are commonly used internally in buildings, where they generally are assessed for fire spread characteristics for different material groups in a ‘Group Number’ classification from 1-4. Where compartmentation is an issue, this is generally due to different usage patterns or size of compartments, the fire resistance performance is sometimes required.

Roof systems can also be a contributor to fire spread and they need to offer some level of fire protection in terms of spread characteristics, particularly to stop fire spreading between compartments via the roof from a building fire, or from a neighbouring building, bushfire, or arson attack for example. As would be expected, for high rise buildings (Type A) the fire requirements are more stringent and roofs will require a certain level of fire resistance performance, or demonstrated level of non-combustibility.

External walls systems have the potential to spread fire externally on a building to other compartments, between buildings, and also through the façade if a required level of fire resistance is not met.

Compliance for external facades of buildings on Type C buildings

The NCC provides minimal requirements for Type C levels of construction – for two or less storeys depending on building class. In some cases fire resistance levels are necessary for common and boundary walls to restrict spread. Fire hazard for certain applications can be measured via ignitability, spread of flame, heat evolved and smoke developed indices.

Group numbers are used for certain areas of the building including internal wall and ceiling linings, and where these areas overlap with external walls /exits / evacuation routes, the fire performance is expected to apply to these areas as well. There are no designated fire façade tests required for Type C buildings.

The AS ISO 9705 small room test is used for determining fire growth spread and Group Number. It is not suitable for an accurate assessment of performance of materials on high rise building facades with vastly different fire dynamics, and is best suited to interior wall and ceiling linings. The latest revision of ISO 9705 recognizes the very similar ISO 13784 test as a better option for insulated panels, predominantly due to large variations in the thickness of panels and room volume, and methods of fixing being problematic and generally unrepresentative of typical construction for the ISO 9705 test. Both of these factors can significantly affect the performance outcomes of the AS ISO 9705 test.

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