Views from our Experts
Fire Safety for Fast Tracked Healthcare Projects

In this edition Simon Widjaja, NDY’s Technical Manager -Fire Engineering, discusses the fire safety implications healthcare providers may face when re-purposing existing spaces to increase bed capacity.

Many Australian healthcare providers are seeking opportunities to increase bed capacity in their facilities to respond a possible increase in demand in services associated with COVID-19. Providers we have spoken with have considered innovative approaches to temporarily achieving this aim, including:

  • Re-purposing office, admin and/or consulting areas to ward areas
  • Increasing bed numbers in existing ward areas
  • Constructing temporary/portable ward buildings or field hospital facilities
  • Providing on-site accommodation for staff in existing office spaces to minimize transit times and exposure of healthcare workers’ families to the virus.

Healthcare providers working through ideas to increase capacity should consider the Building Code of Australia (BCA) requirements in the context of fast tracked temporary works.

The BCA, especially in relation to fire protection services, does not consider the need to repurpose spaces quickly during a crisis and adhering to its guidance could result in delays in implementing temporary accommodation. Furthermore, traditional regulatory frameworks and approval pathways have not been designed to adapt to meet the needs of the community to quickly bring these facilities online, in most cases within weeks due to the critical nature of the current situation.

The spirit of the BCA can however be met through the BCA Performance Based pathway. The Performance Based pathway provides a framework for the stakeholder engagement process as outlined within the International Fire Safety Guideline. The guidelines stipulate:

  • Key decision makers must be involved in the process
  • Key risks (fire risks, evacuation, fire spread, fire brigade operation, etc) must be identified and mitigated
  • Key management and building operation capabilities and limitations are understood by all stakeholders.

Our team has been working with a number of key healthcare providers to facilitate stakeholder workshops to address the above points. We’ve found that the key to effective and actionable outcomes is collaboration from all stakeholders, including hospital medical staff, engineering teams, facility managers, Certifiers/Building Surveyors, Builders, Fire Engineers, Fire Brigade, Peer Reviewers and Government Health department representatives to develop a solution that meets the Performance Requirements of the BCA, appropriate to the risks, short term nature of the buildings and benefit to the community that these facilities serve.

Our experience in these projects is that all stakeholders have the common objective to get these facilities online as quickly as possible, without providing onerous conditions, limitations and regulation whilst ensuring the fire safety risks have been appropriately considered and addressed.

We have found all stakeholders to be supportive to finding efficient, expedient and suitably robust solutions to the challenges of fast-tracked, temporary health facilities to serve our community at time of crisis.

To find out more about fast tracking temporary accommodation using the BCA Performance based pathway get in touch with our expert, Simon Widjaja.

About our Expert

Simon Widjaja

Technical Manager – Fire Engineering

Simon’s current role as Technical Manager includes developing technical content and ensuring NDY quality standards across the fire engineering group are met.

Simon has worked on a wide variety of projects including government, commercial, residential, retail, industrial and health. He has been heavily involved in the modelling of fire and smoke and occupant movement to achieve alternate building solutions.

Simon has worked on projects of all sizes and works closely with the design team to achieve the required solutions. Other experience also includes significant health care audit and hospital work.

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