Calling building owners – your obligations under the Fire and Emergency Act 2017

Civil Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Feb 03 2020

The Fire and Emergency Act 2017 (“Act”) and the Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fire Safety Evacuation Procedures and Evacuation Schemes) Regulations 2018 (“Regulations”) place legal obligations on building owners to implement fire safety precautions. This article focuses on fire evacuation procedures and schemes.

A building owner’s obligations can vary depending on the design, use and occupants of each particular building. Therefore, owners need to assess what their obligations are, and whether they are meeting them, for each building. Failure to meet obligations under the Regulations and Act can result in fines, inability to obtain licences, closure of the building and even prison time.

Fire evacuation procedures
If you own a commercial or public building you must implement fire evacuation procedures that comply with Part 1 of the Regulations.

Evacuation procedures must provide for the safe evacuation of the building’s occupants and consider the safety of any persons who may require particular assistance.

Information about the evacuation procedure must be readily available to the building occupants, including:

  • routes of travel to the places of safety; and
  • fire alarm signals and/or other methods used for alerting occupants; and
  • firefighting equipment available for use by the occupants; and
  • provisions for any person who requires particular assistance; and
  • how to alert Fire and Emergency New Zealand (“FENZ”) to a fire emergency.

Clear notices and signs must be erected around the building summarising the above information. The signs must comply with regulations 7(4) and 7(5).

Fire Evacuation Safety Schemes
If a building is used for one or more of the following purposes, set out in section 75 of the Act, it may be defined as a relevant building:

  • Buildings where 100 or more people can gather together.
  • Buildings where 10 or more people work.
  • Buildings where 6 or more people sleep, unless there are 3 or fewer households.
  • Buildings storing certain levels of hazardous substances.
  • Buildings used for early childhood, medical, and disabled care services, unless the building is a normal home.
  • Prisons and holding cells.

We recommend existing building owners and prospective building owners seek proper advice to determine whether their building is a relevant building. If it is, the owner is subject to heavier obligations and penalties.

A relevant building owner must apply to FENZ for approval of an evacuation scheme (which includes evacuation procedures) 30 days prior to occupation of a new building or an existing building being used as a relevant building.

Once an evacuation scheme is approved it must be maintained, by carrying out and reporting to FENZ on trial evacuations or training programmes at least every six months.

If a building owner knowingly fails to provide and maintain an evacuation scheme for a relevant building they are liable for in the case of an individual, to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding $75,000, or both and in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $150,000. The building may also be closed.

If you are a building owner, Holland Beckett Law can help assess what your particular obligations may be under the Act and Regulations and what you can do to meet those obligations.

Article written by Libby Butler appearing in Associated News – an Associated Realty Limited specialist publication.

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