A question for you: How does a member of the public know the commercial building they are about to enter is safe?
Quite simply, they don’t.
They could ask to view the ‘Building Warrant of Fitness Certificate,’ however that will only tell them that the safety features relating to the means of fire escape of the building are working and compliant.
The ‘Building Warrant of Fitness’ won’t tell them if the building is earthquake prone, or if the fire safety systems are old and well below current standards, as some are.
Nor does it consider the asbestos risks throughout the building, or deal with potentially unhealthy and unsanitary issues.
The initial design phase of a commercial building requires evaluations of the risks, during construction those risks are then managed by quality control such as council inspections and engineers. Then in future, those existing buildings may require on-going assessments to identify risks to public and occupant safety.
Building surveyors use a wide range of risk assessment methodologies and tools to carry out assessments on existing buildings. Probably the most useful tools they process though is their knowledge and experience in assessing buildings, whether residential or commercial.
Technical Due Diligence Reports on commercial buildings typically cover these issues. The building’s age is often at the forefront of risk assessment and usually leads to more specific investigations or testing of the building.
However, in its simplest form, a risk assessment will highlight the possible and probable factors of risk with the building based on its age. These factors might include providing an asbestos register to explain the risks of asbestos with materials within the building and their whereabouts.
The risk of fire safety is assessed by the age and use of the building. The older the building and the higher the occupancy rate, the higher the risk of fire spreading throughout the building.
There are potentially fewer provisions for fire protection in older buildings in many cases – but not necessarily in all cases due to building upgrades that may have occurred. When an older building is upgraded, many of the ‘means of fire escape’ aspects are required to be upgraded by law.
Most public buildings at some stage will require risk assessments, whether by law, for building preservation, investment returns from the building, or simply for the good of public safety.
In my opinion, it would be useful for the Building Warrant of Fitness or a similar form of commercial building certification to include all issues relating to public safety.
A one-stop-shop certificate, if you will, so the overall safety rating of a commercial building can be viewed at a glance.
The structural engineering industry has a simple method of stating the structural strength of a building by expressing it in a percentage of the current building code (when a building’s structural rating is less than 34% of the building code it is earthquake prone).
Maybe we could look at this method to express the overall ‘safety’ of the building?
With the focus on healthy homes at the NZIBS March training day this year, we have quality speakers to share their expertise on this very interesting topic, along with healthy discussions on how the Institute is going to achieve what the Government is asking for with the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act.