Juliet Balconies: Is it a window or a door?


The 2017 NCC Information Seminars included a presentation on ‘Juliet Balconies: is it a window or a door?’ as part 8 of the 13 part BCA sessions delivered throughout February and March 2017.


So now we have about 10 minutes for questions and discussion on this and there was some consistency from the panel member. So I think we have a question over here and we'll get some discussion going on this important topic. Thanks.

Terry Bushing to no particular person. A couple of issues that I see coming out of this is that there is no question that the fire report and the fire brief is required for simple or complex fire solutions. And as you said, that's what it was designed for. The problem now is for simple solutions such as that window issue we had this morning. That process is expected for that where it probably could be done on one or two pages, the whole solution. So the mindset needs to change to say that, it's the horses for courses for the relevant solution, rather than this is the must be profile on how you follow.

And the other point that was raised which I have been hounded for years and years for doing these is, I always ask fire engineers to put in their report, how you are going to test this and how are you going to maintain it? I keep being told that I don't have to do that I just have to meet performance.

I don't know if there's really a question there Brian, but I guess I would answer that by saying in terms of whether you need to do that FEB or not. Neil talked this morning about the fact that the direction of the government is that we want to go to a performance-based code, or have that as an option, because it takes time to evolve the prescriptive provisions to take account of new technology. And that there's the lag in that and that costs industry. So why does it take time? Because we have to get all the relevant stakeholders in a room and decide whether prescriptive provision is the right thing to do or not, given the risks are at stake. That sounds to me a lot like developing an FEB. So, an FEB is a smaller version putting together what are the right prescriptive outcomes for this building based on the risk and allowing you to take advantage of that now.

But documentation is everything and certainly, I've had an approach in the last three hours before coming to the seminar just randomly from a member saying, I'm out on site. I've got the job to do the routine servicing on this building. I've just found out that there's a performance solution. It doesn't say anything about what I'm supposed to do here, but this system doesn't look like anything I've ever seen before. What should I do? Documentation is everything.

Any other comments from the panel on that question?

Look, I support what Matthew said and I think in all of it, you need to look at depending on whether it's that small solution regarding the Juliet balcony and the window, or whether it's a very complex FEB. You need to look at making sure and I agree, that the documentation of what you do, even if it's only 2 pages, and the ABCB have a very good document on how to go through the steps of doing a performance solution. And if you follow those steps and I know that we've got a number of practice notes that deal with that as well. If you just follow those steps for a small one or for a large one, the results should be the same. That there should be enough information there then to be able to document and make sure you've got the relevant documents in place for the relevant building surveyor then to make a decision at the end of the day. So, the processes are still the same but what you've got could be a minor window thing or a major fire solution.


I think if you're getting an issue with a disagreement at the end of the process about whether testing etc is required, it means that right at the beginning of the process, there wasn't an agreement about what the verification benchmark is. So, that's indicating that the process hasn't fully been explored and developed by the people involved. So it underlines the need to be very, very clear right at the beginning of the process about what the whole process is going to entail in order to actually achieve what we're trying to do.

Any other questions?

Neil Povey’s my name. The issue about 400 permits a year in the country. I think in the last 10 years, I've probably seen. at the most. probably two performance solutions. I would suggest that there's not much education available to the people in the country for this sort of stuff and it's pretty restrictive. That's probably just a comment. The question I'd like to put to you is, I notice there’s no one from industry insurance on your panel. I just wonder what their view is to performance in terms of not only registration issues, but also insurance of buildings, contents and structure.

So I wouldn't say that I'm from the insurance industry, Neil, but I guess we have a significant insurer that is part of FBA Australia’s Board. And his concerns, all the way back to speaking to his colleagues at Lloyds of London is a large conglomerate of insurers doling out insurance worldwide is that the fire protection industry is an area where there is a lack of detail and there is a lack of consistency in process. And there is concerns that because of that lack of detail, it's being discovered by people when there is litigation, that the fire safety space is where there are some easy targets. And I guess it's one of the reasons why he's supportive of our body providing as much technical guidance as we can in terms of what the practices should be, and how decisions should be documented.

And I think FPA in the last five or six years has gone from having no technical advice really, other than involvement in Australian standards, to providing a suite of that, and that continues. I totally agree with you though that there is perhaps not just a lack of insurance representation on the panel here today, but I think my observation is that the insurance industry in Australia doesn't play as much as a role as it does in other countries, simply because of the risk level. And the risk of them paying out, I certainly have experienced some occasions in the US where compliance isn't something that you want to do because the regulator is going to come and do enforcement. Compliance is something that you want to do otherwise you won't get insured. And I don’t think we have that environment in Australia. But there's the potential that we would if we continue to go down the track without documenting our decision. So I guess it's coming full circle for me to answer your question by saying documentation is important and yes, industry bodies like mine and others that are represented here today, need to do more work with government to produce education and seminars and information to get people on the right track.

Any other comments? Any other questions?

I tend to disagree with the relevance. I think the insurers are very, very important for your investments and they feel they've got their own standard because they don't trust the local standards. So with the FM requirements, we’ll always have to justify it and insurance won't insure without meeting those requirements. How are we going to tackle that? Is that a performance-based or Deemed-to-Satisfy? It’s always coming up.

So forgive me if I gave you the impression that I didn't think the insurers were relevant. I think they're very relevant, and I wish they played more of a part. If an insurer has more expectations for a building owner because that's what they require for the premium to be set for where it’s at. Well, that's a commercial decision for the owner with the insurer about whether they want that level of insurance or they're happy for their premium to be for a different level insurance. But if you were filing the IFEG, and you're concerned about that, you'd have the insurers as part of the stakeholder group when you're doing the FEB, and you'd have that conversation. So that by the time you started doing the analysis and you've got the outcome, you would have been cognizant of their concerns and incorporate that where necessary. The IFEG expects that you're going to have that conversation and either agree or disagree in terms of the client’s objectives, but also the regulatory objectives that underpin it all. So, there's room for that discussion if you're following the IFEG process.

Well said Matthew. I've got to re-emphasize. The building code that we’re working with, the NCC, is a minimum document. So the prescriptive requirements that represent the minimum expectations. But an insurer has the right as a stakeholder to impose requirements of a higher standard. At the same level of say a building owner may want gold door handles as distinct from a plastic one. Everyone in industry needs to accept what the stakeholders’ perspectives are and objectives are. And that's probably one of the main issues that Matthew just articulated before. The importance of the stakeholder consultation process. And there's going to be varying requirements. An insurer, they're the organizations that are going to have to fork out the money at the end of the day in case something goes wrong.

The FM standard is very different in fire separation in a lot of assets and aspects. So we have to meet the insurer’s requirement because in the end, he's going to repair the building and he's after the safety as well. There's compensation to people as well. So there's always this clash, whether it is a better standard, or do we have to meet two standards?

So, I guess first thing to say, for those who don't know, FM is an insurer factory mutual. I assume that's who you're referring to sir. So the bottom line here is in the context at least of this seminar is ABCB produces a national construction code and the minimum requirements are the performance requirements in the code. If you want to do more than that because your insurer says, I’d like you to do more for you to be able to benefit from this premium, then that's up to you. If the insurer says, we're happy with less, well that's great for them, but you still have to meet the performance requirements in the NCC. So that's a discussion in relation to the stakeholders and FEB process, but what should underpin all that, obviously, is the regulatory environment that you work in. Whatever the insurer says, they can't vary the regulatory requirements in terms of the performance requirements that have to be met. So what we're saying here on the panel today is have an FEB and have a stakeholder group to have that conversation, because at the end of the day, the person building the building or the person who's going to own it will ultimately have to comply with the regulations, and may choose to have provisions in their building determined by their insurer that are above that. The FEB allows you to have that conversation. If you don't have that conversation and you have it separately, then that can cause confusion for the design team, confusion for the implementation of the design, and the use of the building for its life cycle thereafter. So that conversation has to be had.

Ok, thank you everyone for your questions, and thank the panel members as well for their contribution and time. Thank you very much


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