Building regulations undergo final review

17th April 2009 By: Fatima Gabru

Public comments on the draft revision of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) 0400, which is the Code of Practice for the application of the National Building Regulations, are currently under the last phases of review by SABS draft committee.

The two-month public comment period ended at the beginning of December last year.

Fire technology and consulting services company Firelab owner, Kobus Strydom, is a member of the South African Emergency Services Institute technical committee, which is involved with the review process, specifically on the sections that deal with fire safety.

Strydom explains that the review process of the SABS 0400 code has been in progress for over four years, which has been delayed by a number of challenges over this period. The SABS 0400 is now being referred to as the South African National Standards (SANS) 10400.

Challenging Review
He says that most of the challenges were in the redefining and re-wording of many aspects of the SABS 0400 to tackle current needs. The entire document is being revised, of which Part T or the fire section is one of the 22 parts and must be seen in this context, he comments.

"The SABS 0400 was a single document, which, when revised will be divided into distinct parts or sections that will be easier to review and revise in the future," he adds.

A significant challenge that has delayed the revision process was the redefinition of what constitutes a competent person. The current SABS 0400 defines a competent person as someone who is qualified by virtue of his experience and training, without defining the experience and training, which has been misinterpreted in the past. The new SANS 10400 has a clear definition, which includes the requirements suitable for the respective parts of the document.

Further, changes were made in the deemed-to-satisfy or minimum required compliance section of the document, which resulted in amendments to the Building Regulations Act. Theses changes were passed by parliament and promulgated in September last year. The revision and drafting of these changes resulted in other processes of the revision being put on hold.

For the first time the code includes specific requirements for access to buildings and amenities for people with disabilities. In addition, new specifications for building structural requirements, which take into the account the dolomitic nature of most of South Africa's urban geology, were incorporated.

Changing Codes
Strydom says that a number of European norms have been incorporated into the fire safety section, Part T, of the SANS 10400. In addition, where the SABS has a relationship with other international standards organisations, these standards were adopted, which helped simplify the revision process.

While changes have been made to building escape-route requirements, Strydom says that a few anomalies still persist, but that these will be tackled in the next round of the revision process.

He says that the new document has also redefined the use of the rational fire design or the alternate design, supporting innovative designs, which cannot be accommodated within the deemed-to-satisfy section of the code of practice, but will still offer a fire safe solution.

Rational fire design is the alternative design of fire safety and prevention mechanisms in a building beyond the Building Fire Safety regulations.

Large commercial building fires that were experienced in the past were studied and the findings incorporated into the revised standards.

Of particular note were the fires that retail group, Makro, and others had experienced in the past. It was found that many of the fires had been caused by the incorrect use of the under roof and side cladding insulation material. The investigations resulted in the new SANS 428 code, which is the fire safety classification of thermal insulating envelopes in construction and calls for a completely new fire test protocol. The new classification for the safe use and application of thermal insulation has also been incorporated into the Building Regulations Act Amendment.

Strydom says that thatched roofs have also been defined and incorporated, including specifications relating to the roof structure, construction, lightning conductors and the installation of a fire protection system.

Another substantial change is the formalisation of fire divisions and occupancy separating elements, which have been included in a table that sets out the requirements for these elements. These clauses had been vague in the SABS 0400, which led to many misinterpretations in the past, he says.