Access All Areas

Access All Areas

Changes made to the Building Code of Australia on May 1 allow for greater accessibility for persons with a disability, reports Geoff Woolcock.

In recent times, the efforts of building owners and tenants to comply with the relative accessibility provisions within the Building Code of Australia (BCA) have been vastly inadequate under the Disability and Discrimination Act (DDA), leaving them exposed to the possibility of a claim. The introduction of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 (Premises Standards) on May 1 has finally provided a legal framework to achieve consistency between both the DDA and building law via amendments to the Building Act 1993, Building Regulations 2006 and the BCA 2011.

These changes effectively mimic legislative requirements within the Premises Standard. As a result, a building built in compliance with the Act, Regulations and BCA 2011 as of May 1 will also meet the DDA obligations applying to an owner, lessee or other involved party (builders, architects and building surveyors).

Amendments to administrative provisions within the Act and Regulations lend to its application, provide concessions for certain existing features of ‘affected parts’ of buildings and allow for applications to be made to the Building Appeals Board to vary the requirements on the grounds of unjustifiable hardship under section 160B. Modifications under Section 160 are no longer possible.

Transitional and partial compliance provisions currently afforded within the building legislation (i.e. Act Sections 10, 28 and Regulations 608, 502, 503) cannot be applied to the new accessibility requirements without the owner and relevant building surveyor acting unlawfully under the DDA. However, applications for Building Permits lodged prior to May 1 will still be able to be assessed under the previous provisions pursuant to new Regulation 116(2).

Who’s affected?

Generally, the changes will affect new buildings, ‘new parts’ on existing buildings and an ‘affected parts’ of an existing building for which a Building Permit application is made after May 1. An affected part of an existing building includes the principle entrance of the building and any part of an existing building that is necessary to provide a continuous, accessible path from the entrance to the proposed ‘new part’. A number of concessions are provided for lessees who submit an application for building work in regard to the ‘affected part’ of the building. Also, existing accessible lifts and toilets are not required to be upgraded provided they meet specific criteria.

Technical changes to the BCA 2011 sections D, E, F, H and updated reference documents (i.e. AS 1428.1- 2009) have seen some new access requirements, together with improvements of many that existed prior. Some of the main changes affecting different classifications of buildings (as defined by the BCA) are explained below.

The definition of a Class 1b building has been extended to include four or more single dwellings on one allotment used for short-term holiday accommodation. Access was not previously required to Class 1b buildings. Where the Class 1b dwellings are separate, accessible dwellings are required based on a decreasing ratio, but only if four or more dwellings are proposed. If the Class 1b building is a boarding house or the like – having one or more people within the same dwelling – access is required to and within one room, associated sanitary facilities and to/within each type of room used by residents.

Class 2 apartment buildings (also previously not required to be accessible) now require access to the common areas on one floor containing sole occupancy units (SOU) and one of each other type of common area. Access is required to all levels if served by a ramp or lift, although there is no requirement to provide accessible car parking in a Class 2 apartment building (private car parking areas are not considered to be a ‘common area’).

Over the coming months the impact of the Premises standard will be discovered and felt by all stakeholders at varying degrees and through all stages of a buildings life, from conception through to occupation. The objective is to provide safe, equitable and dignified access, to and within public buildings.

Geoff Woolcock is the Building Services Manager at the Master Builders Association of Victoria (tel: 03 9411 4555).