Managing people

What are the rules on fire safety?

A workplace fire can jeopardise the safety of everyone in the workplace, and destroy or damage property, assets, and infrastructure. What laws govern fire safety?

12 October 2023

The risks presented by a fire at the workplace vary enormously according to the type of work being undertaken, and the effectiveness of efforts to manage the risks and respond in emergencies.

Laws relating to fire include gas and electricity safety, mining, marine safety, environmental protection, explosives and dangerous goods, fire and rescue services, bush fires, building safety and work health and safety.

For most owners and managers of buildings or businesses, key requirements can be found in the legislation regarding work health and safety, dangerous goods, building safety and bush fires.

In addition to Acts and regulations, there are also relevant Australian Standards and codes of practice.

Work health and safety legislation

The Work Health and Safety Regulations that apply in all Australian states and territories – except Victoria – include fire safety requirements for persons conducting a business or undertaking to ensure that:

  • plans for dealing with emergencies, including fires, are prepared, maintained and implemented as needed (reg 43)
  • risks in relation to hazardous atmospheres are properly managed (reg 51)
  • flammable or combustible substances are kept at the lowest practicable quantity (reg 53)
  • where there are confined spaces with flammable gases, vapours or mists, sources of ignition are not introduced, workers are given suitable training and instruction, emergency procedures are established and appropriate personal protective equipment is used (regs 72 to 76)
  • sources of ignition are not introduced into areas if there is a risk they might cause a fire or explosion (reg 355), and
  • the workplace is provided with fire protection and firefighting equipment for use with the types of hazardous chemicals in the quantities and under the conditions in which they are used, handled, generated or stored (reg 359). 

In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 require employers to ensure that no source of ignition is introduced to a confined space if there is a likelihood of fire or explosion in the space.

Operators of major hazard facilities must conduct a comprehensive and systematic safety assessment in relation to all potential major incidents and hazards, including the risk of fire, and must have an emergency plan in place.

In all jurisdictions, incidents such as serious fires at workplaces must be reported to WHS/OHS authorities.

Explosives and dangerous goods legislation

Legislation regulating explosives and dangerous goods also includes provisions relating to fire safety. 

New South Wales

For example, in New South Wales the Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2014 states that the owner of a road vehicle must not use it to transport a placard load, or permit the vehicle to be used for that purpose, unless the vehicle is equipped with fire extinguishers and portable warning devices that comply with Part 12 of the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail. Prime contractors and drivers are bound by the same requirement. There are also requirements for vehicle owners to have insurance cover for damage arising from fire, and for drivers to contact the fire service as soon as practicable in the event of a fire or incident, and report on measures taken to control any fire or explosion resulting from an incident. 

Also in NSW, the Explosives Regulation 2013 prohibits people from smoking or taking anything that might spontaneously ignite or cause fire or explosion within 10 metres of a place where explosives are handled.

Victoria

In Victoria, if the maintenance or repair of any structure or plant used for the storage or handling of dangerous goods involves the use of welding, cutting or other processes that generate heat or introduce ignition sources, the occupier must ensure the risk of a fire or explosion involving the dangerous goods is eliminated, or reduced so far as is reasonably practicable if it cannot be eliminated (Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2022). 

Western Australia

In Western Australia, the operator of a dangerous goods site must ensure there is an adequate, properly installed, tested and maintained fire protection system on the site, including fire control equipment, in compliance with the Dangerous Goods Safety (Storage and Handling of Non-explosives) Regulations 2007.

Similar requirements apply in other jurisdictions.

Building safety legislation

Building fire safety regulations aim to ensure people can evacuate buildings safely and quickly in the event of a fire or hazardous materials emergency, and that prescribed fire safety installations for buildings are maintained.

In Queensland, for example, the Building Fire Safety Regulation 2008 requires building occupiers (or the managing entities of multi-occupancy buildings) to keep fire evacuation plans in a specified form and to ensure these reflect fire safety management procedures. Building owners must also obtain and keep the relevant approval documents for the building.

Responsibilities are also set out for:

  • building occupiers to maintain fire safety installations and provide fire and evacuation instructions if buildings are to be used for temporary events
  • occupiers of high occupancy buildings to appoint a qualified fire safety advisor, and
  • records to be kept of fire and evacuation instructions.

Similar requirements apply in other jurisdictions.

Additional legal obligations exist for particular premises. For example, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2021, residential aged care facilities in NSW must have automatic fire sprinklers installed. 

Legislation relating to bush fires

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) aims to improve protection from bush fires through the development assessment process. This Act establishes a system for requiring bush fire protection measures on bush fire prone land at the development application stage. This will only be relevant to business owners and managers planning to construct new premises.

Specific requirements apply to some organisations. Municipal councils in Victoria, for example, are responsible for identifying and designating community fire refuges, and considering advice from municipal fire and emergency management planning committees and the relevant regulatory provisions.

There are many Acts and regulations with fire safety requirements that apply to some types of organisations, so check with local authorities if in doubt.

Code and standards

Australian Standards set out specifications and procedures to ensure that equipment or materials are fit for purpose and perform as specified in state and federal regulations. In relation to fire equipment and systems, Australian Standards specify installation procedures and the correct location of fire extinguishers, among other things, and state that all fire equipment and systems are to be regularly tested, serviced and maintained.

Compliance with Australian Standards is not mandatory unless they are called up in legislation, which is the case with numerous standards. 

Together with the Building Code of Australia, Australian Standards provide best practice advice on fire safety. 

The following sources are important:

  • AS 2444 Portable fire extinguishers and fire blankets – Selection and location
  • AS/NZS 1841.1 Portable fire extinguishers – General requirements
  • AS 2441 Installation of fire hose reels
  • AS 1670.1 Fire detection, warning, control and intercom systems – System design, installation and commissioning – Fire
  • AS 1851 Routine service of fire protection systems and equipment 
  • AS 2419.1 Fire hydrant installations – System design, installation and commissioning
  • AS 2118.4 Automatic fire sprinkler systems – Sprinkler protection for accommodation buildings not exceeding four storeys in height
  • AS 2118.1 Automatic fire sprinkler systems – General systems
  • AS 2941 Fixed fire protection installations – Pumpset systems
  • AS 5062 Fire protection for mobile and transportable equipment.

Some codes of practice are also significant sources of information on fire safety, for example:

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