Browse Published Resources

Published Resources Details Conference Paper

Gildersleeve, Chris; Foley, Marianne; Bong, Kelvin.
Preserving Australia's heritage whilst providing fire safety
17th Engineering Heritage Conference: Canberra 100 - Building the Capital, Building the Nation
Engineers Australia, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, 2013, pp. 155-160

There is a growing awareness of the need to preserve our heritage buildings, at the same time as an increased focus on health and safety, and of the performance of buildings for their occupants. The latter is particularly noticeable in terms of environmental performance and quality of accommodation. Heritage buildings do not meet the prescriptive provisions of the current building code (BCA) for fire safety, for equitable access, and for sustainability as currently measured. But does this mean they are not acceptable for use? Buildings will only be retained and maintained if they can continue to be used effectively. Assessing the existing performance of heritage buildings against the performance requirements of the BCA provides one pathway to test their acceptability and identify needs for any upgrades. This approach gives greater flexibility than use of the prescriptive provisions and hence allows greater preservation of heritage fabric and importance of the buildings. However for many heritage buildings, their current performance is not close to meeting the current performance requirements and an upgrade to achieve this level of safety would result in a loss of heritage value that would be unacceptable. For these buildings a risk based approach to evaluating fire safety offers a more useful approach. Such an assessment considers all aspects of fire safety including the effect of management or building uses on likelihood of ignition and fire spread, and potential for effective fire intervention, rather than the standard fire engineering approach that assumes that there will be a fire and then addresses the consequences. This paper will consider various approaches to upgrading fire safety in heritage buildings, including examples from across Australia. Projects examples include the Sydney Opera House and Parliament House in Brisbane. A risk based methodology developed from NFPA 101A Life Safety Code: "Guide on Alternative approaches to Life safety" will be discussed, and in particular how it was used at Parliament House to consider the current level of safety and to balance different options for upgrading in order to achieve 'best bang for buck' as well as minimising effect on heritage. This involved the ranking of heritage importance of different areas of the building as well as ranking of risk factors and effectiveness of different measures for fire safety. This tool, in particular, offers an objective approach to assessing and minimising risk in heritage buildings, without the need to try to compare against current prescriptive code provisions that may give no real indication of actual risk levels. A suitable range of practical design options can be quickly assessed by the tool to determine the best value solution. As such it provides a rationale way to achieve cost effective fire safety and heritage protection.

Related Published resources