Changes To QLD’s Fire Alarm Legislation

Action by the Queensland State Government requires significant changes to fire alarm legislation.

Smoke Detector

New laws that will make photoelectric smoke alarms mandatory for all Queensland homes are intended to improve safety, according to a statement from the Government.

The changes take effect on Jan. 1 2017 and they apply to all new dwellings and substantially renovated properties.

Laws that make smoke alarms mandatory in bedrooms are the Government’s response to the worst fire in Australia’s history.

The fatal blaze occurred south of Brisbane at Slacks Creek in 2011. Eight children and three adults died when the fire consumed the Logan property, according to the coroner’s report.

Two of the home’s smoke alarms were not working, and they had not functioned for several years.

According to Emergency Services Minister Bill Byrne.

“Tragically, more than 150 people have died in home fires in Queensland since 2004,”

he said.

Emphasizing the importance of the new laws, he stated that “photoelectric alarms will be required to be installed in homes any time a smoke alarm is replaced or a new one is installed in any way.”

He cited the first day of 2017 as the starting date for the new legislation. Mr. Byrne indicated that the new laws have a phase-in period of 10 years.

Understanding Fire Alarm Interconnectivity

Standards in the new legislation require interconnectivity between smoke alarms. The protective devices must have hardwiring or a 10-year battery to provide residents the highest probability of surviving a house fire.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) cites photoelectric smoke alarms as those that “are more likely to alert occupants to a broader range of fires in time to escape safely.”

Interconnectivity allows all smoke alarms to sound concurrently with any that detect danger. A device in any bedroom or hallway leading to a bedroom can set off all alarms in the house at the same time.

Connecting smoke alarms increases the time that residents have for escaping. Hardwired smoke alarms connect to the electrical system of a home for power and use a lithium cell battery with a 10-year life for backup.

Battery life is the same as the smoke alarm, and both need replacement once in every decade.

What Are The Effects on Contractors and Residents?

The Queensland Building and Construction Commission acknowledges the impact that the new laws have on QBCC-licensed contractors as well as their customers.

The legislation applies to all new or substantially renovated structures that must have the required smoke alarms for compliance.

“The evidence is overwhelming that interconnected smoke alarms and installing them in bedrooms significantly increases the chances of families escaping from fires unharmed,” Mr. Byrne stated.

“The Palaszczuk Government will not sit back while more Queensland families are torn apart by house fires.”

The Opposition expressed concerns about the financial pressure that the mandate places on households.

Contractors whose building applications are already underway or those who await approval of a current building can agree to install the smoke alarm system that the new law requires.

The construction contract may include a variation that reflects the change.

Documentation that complies with standards in the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991 must accompany the changes and receive approval before carrying out any related domestic building work.

A contractor may not request extra payment for changes unless the claim is proportional to the value of the work that makes the building comply with the new laws.

Also, the owner must agree to the variation in writing before a contractor may initiate the work.

Identifying Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

The back, front or inside of a photoelectric smoke alarm displays “photoelectric,” “photo-optical,” “optical,” or the letter “P.” Devices that lack one of the descriptions do not meet the standards that the new legislation requires.

Photoelectric smoke alarms can detect visible combustion particles, and research shows that they are particularly useful in a range of fires that occur in homes. QFES lists these advantages:

• ability to respond to smouldering fires
• capability of responding to dense smoke from overheated PVC wiring or foam filled cushions
• resistance to cooking nuisance alarms
• absence of radioactive material
• suitability for general use

A QFES information sheet regarding the new smoke alarm specifications is available here.

Installing Smoke Alarms

A licensed electrician can install hardwired smoke alarms that comply with the Building Code of Australia. The typical location for the devices is on the ceiling away from a corner. An information sheet from QFES is available here.

Understanding the Importance of the New Laws

Research confirms that interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide the most efficient notification that alerts residents to home fires.

“I am proud that Queensland has achieved national leadership on this issue. We are doing everything that we can to keep residents safe,” Minister Byrne said.

While the law allows a 10-year rollout period that is ample for residents to have a licensed electrician install the new alarms, he encouraged residents to take action promptly.

“Hardwired, interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms require a licensed electrician to install and ensure the alarms are working as they should be,” he said.

Recognizing the hardship that the new laws place on some residents, he offered an option for residents who have no easy access to electricians.

“There is an option to install photoelectric alarms with a 10-year lithium battery,” Mr. Byrne stated. He noted that they “have the capability to achieve interconnectedness wirelessly between alarms.”

He pointed out that “the option may have more suitability for Queenslanders who live in remote areas where finding an electrician could be difficult.”

Commissioner Katarina Carroll applauded the new laws as legislation that is the “strongest of its kind in the country.” She said that the adoption of recommendations by QFES to hardwire interconnected photoelectric alarms into homes is laudable.