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Photoelectric Smoke Alarms – New QLD Legislation – Landlords

Video courtesy Queensland Fire and Emergency Website.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms – New QLD Legislation – Owners

Video courtesy Queensland Fire and Emergency Website.

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms – New QLD Legislation – Renters

Video courtesy Queensland Fire and Emergency Website.

Commissioner Wants Most Common Smoke Alarm Banned

Video courtesy Channel 7 News.

New QLD Smoke Alarm Laws – Residential Tenancies Authority and QLD Fire and Emergency Services Joint Webinar

The principal smoke alarm laws in Western Australia consist of;

– the W.A Building Regulations 2012 (division 3) and;

– the Building Code of Australia.

In 1997 hard wired 240v smoke alarms became compulsory in Western Australia for all newly constructed residential buildings (or residential building extensions). From 2009 onwards this was extended to also include all existing residential buildings, prior to their transfer of ownership, rent or hire.

In W.A smoke alarms must;

  • be positioned according to the requirements of the Building Code of Australia
  • comply with Australian Standard 3786:2014
  • be permanently connected to consumer mains power
  • be interconnected, if your home was newly built after the 1 May 2015.
  • be less than 10 years from the date of manufacture

The W.A Building Regulations 2012 does allow the use of non-replaceable lithium battery powered smoke alarms in certain situations however. This may include where mains power is not connected to the building, there is no hidden space to run the necessary wiring for mains powered alarms, and there is no appropriate alternative location – for example, where there is a concrete ceiling. Formal approval must be obtained by the local council to use lithium battery powered alarms in these situations.

Landlords who rent or hire out their property to tenants are required by law to maintain the smoke alarms. This includes ensuring the smoke alarm is;

  • in good working order;
  • permanently connected to mains power (i.e. 240 volt hard wired);
  • less than 10 years old from manufacture date;
  • if the use of a battery powered smoke alarm has been approved by the local council, the alarm has a non-removeable 10-year life lithium battery (i.e. not a 9 volt replaceable battery).

According to W.A legislation both ionisation and photoelectric smoke alarms are permissible, however the W.A Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) recommend interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms as the preferred type.

The governing piece of smoke alarm legislation in the Northern Territory is called the Northern Territory Fire and Emergency Regulations 1996 (as in force 1 October 2019).

Part 2A of this regulation details requirements relating to smoke alarms, notably to do with the type of alarm, installation, maintenance and testing. A summary is provided below;

All owners of residential property must have working smoke alarms installed and tested annually.
Any existing ionization alarms must be replaced with the photoelectric type when they no longer work, the property is sold, or premises are rented out or a lease is renewed.
The responsibility for testing the alarm in a tenanted property lies with the tenant. The tenant must advise the owner or agent if the alarm does not work.
Section 13A (3) of the regulation states that an approved smoke alarm means a photoelectric type that:

(a) complies with Australian Standard 3786 and;

(b) is hard wired or is a sealed 10 year lithium battery unit.

A copy of the Northern Territory Fire and Emergency Regulations 1996 is available for download at the link below if you would like to read it.

https://legislation.nt.gov.au/en/Legislation/FIRE-AND-EMERGENCY-REGULATIONS-1996

Just like most other Australian states and Territories, South Australia also requires working smoke alarms to be fitted into every property. Fines up to $750 can be imposed if smoke alarms are not installed, and for rental properties the onus is on landlords to ensure the smoke alarms are working.

The two main pieces of legislation for smoke alarms in South Australia are;

Regulation 76B of the Development Regulations 2008 and Regulation 95 of the Planning and Development Infrastructure (General) Regulations 2017 specify requirements for smoke alarms in dwellings.

In summary, they mention that;

Existing homes or residential properties built prior to 1 January 1995

A replaceable battery powered smoke alarm may be installed in these premises subject to any future change of ownership conditions.

When an existing house built prior to 1995 is sold, then the owner has 6 months from the date of title transfer to install smoke alarms which are either 240 volt mains powered or have a 10 year life non-removeable lithium battery.

Regulation 76B of the Development Regulations 2008 does not require multiple smoke alarms to be interconnected, unless required by the Building Code of Australia for new additions or extensions to existing dwellings – see also here for guidance.

New houses or residential properties built after 1 January 1995

The Building Code of Australia requires a 240 volt, mains powered smoke alarm that is interconnected.

Further advise on the interconnection of smoke alarms in South Australia is available here.

Legislation in South Australia does not specifically stipulate between ionisation or photoelectric smoke alarms, although the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service state that interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide the best protection across a range of fires.

Before buying a smoke alarm you should do your due diligence to ensure it is compliant to Australian Standard 3786:2014. The first of this two part series will review Australian Standard 3786:2014 to help your purchasing decision.

The full name of the standard which encompasses smoke alarms in Australia is ‘Australian Standard 3786:2014 Smoke alarms using scattered light, transmitted light or ionization’. Standards are documents that set out specifications, procedures and guidelines that aim to ensure products are safe, consistent, and reliable. When a standard is referenced by state or national legislation, then it becomes compulsory in the eyes of the law.

Australian Standard 3786:2014 is divided into several key components – the two of interest that will be reviewed in this article are ‘tests’ and ‘general requirements’.

Section 4.17 of the Australian Standard states that; ‘The smoke alarm shall be so designed that a sphere of diameter larger than 1.3 ±0.05 mm cannot pass into the sensor chamber(s)’. This requirement is intended to restrict the access of foreign bodies such as insects into the sensitive parts of the smoke alarm (to prevent nuisance alarms). It is known that this requirement is not sufficient to prevent the access of all insects; however, it is considered that extreme restrictions on the size of the access holes may introduce the danger of clogging by dust, etc.

How does this requirement translate into the design and manufacture of your smoke alarm? The image below shows the compliant internal component from our Premier Range wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarm. The stainless-steel mesh surrounds the sensitive photoelectric chamber within the alarm and contains thousands of tiny holes, each perfectly engineered, no larger than 1.3mm in diameter. The tiny holes prevent most insects from accessing the internal chamber whilst still allowing air (and smoke) to pass through.

Mesh screen surrounding the photoelectric smoke alarm internal sensor chamber
As per Australian Standard 3786:2014 – holes must be no larger than 1.3mm diameter

In addition to this internal mesh screen around the perimeter of the photoelectric chamber, the Premier Range wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarm also has an outer grill which forms part of the external housing of the smoke alarm. As you can see in the images below, the external grill also prevents larger foreign bodies from entering the alarm itself. Foreign bodies (i.e., insects) are a common cause of false / nuisance alarms because they can enter the sensitive internal components and disrupt the photoelectric light beam.

Design feature of this smoke alarm incorporates a grill into the external housing
This exterior grill prevents larger foreign bodies from entering the smoke alarm

We hope you have enjoyed this review of Australian Standard 3786:2014 and how it translates to the design of your smoke alarm. Whilst many smoke alarm retailers might profess to be aware of the standard, very few can claim to have read it from cover to cover or have a genuine understanding of what it means.

Smoke alarm rules and regulations in Victoria are derived primarily from the Victorian Building Regulations 2018 (which requires smoke alarms to be installed in accordance with the Building Code of Australia). Amendments are also being made to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act which will place extra duties on the landlord.

240v mains powered hard-wired smoke alarms with a battery back-up must be installed in all Victorian buildings constructed after 1 August 1997, like these Red brand 240 volt lithium battery back-up smoke alarms.

Buildings constructed before 1st August 1997 can have a battery-powered smoke alarm, like these wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms with a 10 year long life lithium battery.

As a legal minimum the state requires at least one smoke alarm on each floor of a dwelling, positioned to detect to smoke before it reaches the sleeping occupants of a building.

Direct links to the Victorian Government website are posted below if you would like to read the legislative document for yourself.

https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/18-38sra013%20authorised.pdf

The Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) recommend smoke alarm best practice above and beyond minimum legal Victorian requirements – refer to the direct link below.

https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/installation-and-replacement

On 1 May 2006, the NSW Government introduced new legislation following a series of fatal house fires. Division 7A of the ‘Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000’ calls out the minimum requirements for smoke alarm installation in existing buildings and says that;

– Smoke alarms must comply to Australian Standard 3786:2014 and can be either battery operated or hard wired to mains power.

– A minimum of one working smoke alarm should be installed on each level of a dwelling (even if there are no bedrooms on that level).

Note that whilst this is the minimum required by NSW law, Fire and Rescue NSW recommends installing smoke alarms in all bedrooms and living spaces (including hallways and stairways).

A new section (64A) relating to smoke alarms has also been added to the NSW Residential Tenancies Act 2010. This new section came into effect on March 2020 and placed extra obligations for smoke alarms on landlords in accordance with the Rental Tenancies Regulation 2019. It states that landlords must replace a smoke alarm within 10 years of manufacture and ensure the smoke alarm is tested at least annually.

Direct links to the NSW Government website are posted below if you would like to read the legislative documents for yourself.

https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/whole/html/inforce/current/sl-2000-0557

https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/pdf/asmade/sl-2019-629

Fire and Rescue NSW recommend smoke alarm best practice above and beyond minimum legal NSW requirements – refer to the direct link below.

https://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/page.php?id=80

There is no point waiting until a fire occurs before figuring out what to do and where to go – especially when family members are involved. Having a well developed and rehearsed home fire safety plan will provide loved ones with crucial time to escape, and could certainly mean the difference between life and death. This blog post shows how to develop a home fire safety plan and demonstrates that it needn’t be a difficult task.

Develop a floor plan and identify the emergency exit paths

The main purpose of a home fire safety plan is to provide the occupants of a dwelling sufficient knowledge and skill to escape a burning building. This is achieved by a) documenting the required information b) communicating the information and then c) practicing the home fire safety plan.

The first step in developing a home fire safety plan is to draw a basic floor plan / map of your house, including key locations such as each person’s bedroom. Review the floor plan collectively with all occupants of the dwelling – identify both the primary and secondary path of exit so there are two means of escape for each person in the event of a fire. Some things to consider – are there obstacles to negotiate such as large furniture? Are there ‘landmarks’ along the way which could assist if smoke has reduced visibility to zero? Are there people in the home of differing ages, mental acuity or reduced physical mobility? If so it may be worth allocating a ‘buddy’ to help these people. Agree on a muster point where everyone is to gather at a safe distance having evacuated the building.

Practice the home fire safety plan

It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to actually do it. Rehearse the home fire safety plan and physically practice an escape with EVERY member of the household, twice yearly. During the rehearsal, a mobile phone timer could be used to create a sense of urgency, reduced visibility due to thick smoke can be simulated by placing a blindfold on the occupant and have them attempt to navigate the exit path in a controlled manner. Once outside the building, everyone should assemble at the fire safety plan’s designated muster point and perform an after action review to identify any opportunities for improvement. Time taken to escape the building can be logged and used as a performance benchmark for future rehearsals.

Interconnected smoke alarms and the home fire safety plan

Interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms provide greater early warning and response time to a fire, they should be installed within your home and form part of the overall home fire safety plan. Ensure they are installed in every bedroom, communal hallway outside the bedrooms and if in a multi-story dwelling then at least one on every floor. During the rehearsal of the home fire safety plan, test the interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms so all actually activate, and everyone becomes acquainted with their sound and meaning. Doing so may help lessen the sense of surprise or shock in a real-life fire event, and it is especially important for children who may not associate the smoke alarm sound with danger.

Fire safety essentials

Rehearsing your home fire safety plan is a great opportunity to impart some basic fire safety essentials. You may wish to document the following information in your home fire safety plan and ensure it is understood by all;

  • Immediately phone triple zero 000 for Australian emergency services, including the fire department.
  • Stay low to the ground to minimize inhaling toxic smoke and fumes which generally rise.
  • Prior to opening a door, test it using the back of the hand to ascertain if there is heat on the other side.
  • Close doors (but don’t lock) as you pass through them to limit air supply and possible expansion of the fire.
  • Once outside at the designated muster point perform a head count. Do not head back inside the burning building for any reason.

Summary

A home fire safety plan should be unique to each residence, and the occupants should be familiar with it. Review the home fire safety plan bi-annually and practice escaping from the building so that theoretical knowledge becomes reality. Ensure interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms are installed and test these during the practice-run. Basic fire safety essentials should also be added to the home fire safety plan and practiced – doing so will increase the opportunity for your loved ones to escape a burning home in a real-life emergency situation.

There are three important differences between our wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms and conventional smoke alarms.

1) Our smoke alarms are photoelectric (not ionisation). Older conventional smoke alarms use radioactive ionisation as the process by which they detect smoke particles in the air. Ionisation smoke alarms are good at detecting smoke from flaming fires, but are less adept at detecting smoke from smouldering flames which is common of most house fires. Ionisation alarms have also been known to cause frustrating nuisance alarms, which might condition people to switch them off, putting themselves at risk. For these reasons the older style ionisation smoke alarms are being phased out both in Australia and internationally.

2) Older smoke alarms typically operated as stand-alone units. If a smoke alarm sensed smoke on the ground floor of a building – yes it may activate, but any other smoke alarms on the upper floors would not activate until smoke had entered the same air space – by this time it could be too late to initiate an effective response (or escape).
Our smoke alarms are wirelessly ‘interconnected’ together – so if one alarm detects smoke anywhere within a building, then all smoke alarms paired within the same network will simultaneously initiate their alarm. This can provide increased early warning and response time for residents.

3) Our smoke alarms have a sealed 10 year life lithium battery. Conventional smoke alarms are usually powered by a 9v replaceable battery. When the battery life becomes drained over time the smoke alarm begins to emit a loud intermittent ‘chirp’ noise. The chirp serves as a noisy (and annoying) reminder to replace the battery, and continues until the battery is replaced. As seen in the past, residents can remove the battery, disabling the chirping noise and the alarm itself, often with tragic consequences.
Because our smoke alarms are powered by a long life 10-year lithium  battery which is sealed inside the unit, the battery cannot be deliberately removed. At the end of the 10-year battery life span, the entire smoke alarm unit is simply replaced with a new one!
Don’t risk your life or that of your loved ones – whatever smoke alarm you have in your home please check to ensure it is; interconnectable, photoelectric and contains a sealed 10 year long life battery (or hard wired).

These new laws were introduced in Queensland due to several house fires which resulted in multiple fatalities.

Had the dwellings in each instance been fitted with functioning wireless interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms the victims may have stood a chance of surviving.

Early detection = early alarm = early escape from a burning building. When the fire occurred, it was not only the flames themselves which presented as a hazard – most victims were first overcome by breathing in fumes and thick smoke.

Palace Backpackers Fire – Childers

In June 2000 a resident of the Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel maliciously lit a fire inside. The fire quickly spread throughout the timber building. Unfortunately the hostel did not have working smoke detectors or alarms and fifteen young people died as a result. The after effects of this tragic event are still evident on the local township to this day.

The arsonist was captured by police and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Slacks Creek House Fire – Brisbane

A few minutes before midnight on 23rd August 2011, a  fire tore through a house in the suburb of Slacks Creek, South Brisbane.

This fire caused the greatest loss of life in a domestic house fire in Australian history, with eleven people (including many children) dying due to inhaling toxic smoke.

A finding from the 2014 Coronial Inquest stated that;
‘Once this particular fire started, it is likely that some or all of the deaths would have been prevented if the sleeping occupants had been quickly awoken and had realised that they needed to leave the house as quickly as possible … smoke alarms were either not present in the dwelling or were not maintained’.

Many prescriptive requirements and recommendations from the Coronial Inquest were subsequently incorporated into the QLD Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulation 2016.

The legislation can be read here;
https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/asmade/sl-2016-0221