Building Compliance and Safety 

A survey revealed that an overwhelming 96% of buildings in New Zealand, including brand-new constructions, failed to meet compliance standards.  

While this statistic highlights a larger systemic problem, it also points to a looming crisis of accountability, with engineers often finding themselves squarely in the crosshairs. 

Pinpointing exactly where it’s all going wrong would take ages, so for now, let’s focus on what we can – fire protection. 

There are four main systems to consider when looking at fire protection in buildings:  

  • Cladding System: Type A cladding systems should be used on buildings over 10m to help prevent the spread of flame up the external face of a building and also between buildings positioned close together. 
  • Surface Finishes: Group Surface ratings should be considered to Internal & external surface finishes. This can help mitigate the spread of flame to assist in evacuating a building. 
  • Structural Protection: This system is essential for maintaining the integrity of the building's structure in the event of a fire. It includes materials and designs that prevent the collapse of the building, ensuring it remains standing and providing more time for evacuation and firefighting efforts. 
  • Encapsulation: Where mass timber is being used for the structure of a building, encapsulation should be considered to reduce the fuel load of the timber structure in the event of a fire. 

These systems, while distinct, work together towards a common goal: keeping people safe.  

Yet, we’re finding that, in the market, knowledge gaps and lack of expert involvement in projects could possibly be contributing to structures becoming non-compliant. And while non-compliance is costly and frustrating, when it comes to fire protection, the consequences are more severe.  


Engineers are liable   

Councils have acknowledged their challenges in conducting thorough building inspections. The solution has been to shift greater responsibility onto the engineers to sign off buildings prior to council inspection – and the process to get to inspection has become more layered in recent years.  

This process revolves more around a system of Producer Statements (PS), which are formal documents where engineers and builders attest to the compliance of their work with the NZ Building Code.  

Initially, an engineer asserts that their design meets the code (PS1), followed by a second engineer who reviews and confirms the first engineer's design (PS2). Then, the builder states that the construction has been executed according to these compliant designs (PS3). Finally, one of the engineers verifies that the constructed building aligns with their design and the building code (PS4).  

Through this process, councils aim to ensure building compliance while distributing liability among the professionals involved. Consequently, councils are now less liable, relying heavily on accurate and thorough documentation from consultants and contractors to confirm a building's compliance. 

What’s more, engineers don't just carry professional liability. They also shoulder personal liability. This means that if a building does not comply with the NZ Building Code, the individual engineer, not just the firm they represent, can be held accountable. Just as well, builders are also personally liable for the PS3. 


Getting it right from the start  

Considering the gravity of the consequences, it’s paramount that engineers get fire protection right from the start. This means getting the right solution included in the design phase 

The earlier you make the decision, the less likely you’ll need costly modifications later on. 

While retrofitting is possible – it’s obviously not ideal. Modifications made late in the project can drastically inflate the budget. Retrofitting a building to incorporate necessary fire protection after construction can be quite disruptive and creates additional work, leading to escalated costs and non-compliance.  


The knowledge gap 

That all might sound simple: fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all that.  

However, sometimes, even when there is preparation, there’s still failure. When it comes to fire protection, this is often a result of a lack of specialised knowledge among the professionals involved in the project. 

A fire engineer will specify the duration a building must withstand fire, which informs the architect and structural engineer's decisions on materials and methods, such as the type of fire-resistant paint to be used.  

The involved parties may be able to pull together enough information to get designs through consent before it gets passed over to the main contractor. However, the main contractor's primary goal is often to minimise costs, which might lead them to opt for cheaper, less effective intumescent paint or other fire protection solutions. 

And when engineers go to sign their PS4, how are they to know that the fire protection solution chosen isn’t the right one?  

This can all then result in a building that fails to meet the necessary fire protection standards, putting occupants at risk and exposing the engineer's liability issues. 


Bridging the knowledge gap  

To bridge this knowledge gap and ensure that buildings are adequately protected against fire, it is crucial to involve fire protection experts like Fireshield early in the design process. 

Our process begins by gathering all necessary design documents, including structural and architectural plans. Working closely with the designers, we identify the specific requirements for fire protection, determining whether the application of protective measures will occur on-site or off-site.  

We then create a detailed schedule that outlines the type of fire-resistant paint to be used and its application areas. This comprehensive schedule is included in the consent package submitted to the council for approval, ensuring all details are clearly documented and compliant. 

By providing the council with a complete and detailed package, we mitigate the risk of delays during the council's inspection. Such delays can occur if the council requests additional information or clarifications that were not initially provided, potentially halting construction and leading to significant financial and time-related consequences.  

By anticipating and addressing these needs upfront, we help keep the project on schedule, within budget, compliant, and, most importantly – safe. 


Partnering with Fireshield 

When the vast majority of buildings in New Zealand are failing to meet compliance standards, engineers are finding themselves bearing the brunt of the responsibility.  

The key to staying compliant (and safe) lies in bridging the knowledge gap and involving fire protection experts like Fireshield from the very beginning. By collaborating closely with specialists throughout the design and construction process, engineers can ensure that the right solutions are implemented, compliance is achieved, and the safety of building occupants is prioritised. This proactive approach not only mitigates the risks of costly retrofits and liability issues but also contributes to a safer built environment for all.  

As the construction industry continues to evolve, it is crucial that engineers adapt and forge partnerships with experts who can support them.  

With Fireshield, we can help create buildings that are not only compliant but also resilient and secure.