Finding your way around the draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards

Finding your way around the draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards

Introduction

All the documents on the proposed Premises Standards which were tabled in Parliament on 2 December are now available on the Attorney General's Department website at http://www.ag.gov.au/premisesstandards

For those building professionals, consultants and advocates who have been following and actively participating in the development of the Premises Standards over the past 8 years these documents, and how they fit together, will be quite familiar.

For others, however, who are new to the building regulation world they will undoubtedly be difficult to follow.

At the end of the day, however, there is no way around the fact that they are complex documents with many layers of cross referencing, and a full understanding of the documents and how they fit together will involve considerable effort.

No doubt organisations representing people with a disability, building professionals, owners, approval bodies and certifiers will all assess the documents and provide their members with a summary of issues of particular interest to them.

It is expected that the draft Premises Standards and related documents will now be referred to the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs with a request that the Committee consult on the draft and report in the first half of 2009.

At this stage we do not know what form that consultation will take, but clearly the Government wishes to provide an opportunity for final comments on the draft before moving speedily to complete the standards. The Commission strongly supports a speedy conclusion to this work.

What is the overall aim of the Premises Standards

The overall aim of the Premises Standards is twofold:

  • First it is to provide the building and design industry with detailed information about how they can design and construct their buildings in a way that meets their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
  • Second it is to improve access to buildings for people with a disability to ensure the greatest possible participation in the social, economic, cultural and political life of the community.

Very early on in discussions on the Premises Standards agreement was reached among representatives from the disability, property, building and government sectors that when finished the access requirements of the Premises Standards should be reflected in a new revised Building Code of Australia.

This would mean that the building industry could have confidence that if they designed and constructed their buildings according to the requirements of the revised BCA they would also be complying with the Premises Standards and the DDA on those matters covered by the Premises Standards.

Because of this the Premises Standards have been developed in the same style and structure as the BCA so that there is consistency between the two. Once the Premises Standards have been finalised the Commission expects that corresponding changes will be made to the BCA and adopted by State and Territory Governments in their building law.

A brief timeline

1995: Building Access Policy Committee (BAPC) (a committee of the Australian Building Codes Board) begins its work on developing proposals for progressive changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) to better reflect discrimination law. The BAPC includes representatives from the disability sector, design and building sector, property owners, certifiers and all levels of government

2000: Changes made to the DDA to allow for Access to Premises Standards. BAPC begins its work on developing Premises Standards.

2004: Draft Premises Standards and a Regulation Impact Statement released for public comment

2005: Following an assessment of the public comments on the draft and further negotiation BAPC provides its report to the ABCB. Later that year the ABCB provides its advice to the then Ministers

2006: ABCB provides further advice and a revised Regulation Impact Statement to the then Ministers

2008: The Attorney General and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research table a draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards

What are the documents that have been tabled

The documents available on the Attorney Generals Department website http://www.ag.gov.au/premisesstandards   include:

Draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2009

This is the primary document that will eventually form the Premises Standards. It consists of two major parts. The first part deals with all the regulation requirements for the Premises Standards, who they apply to, scope, definitions, concessions and a review timetable.

The second part is Schedule 1 Access Code for Buildings . This is the part that contains all the requirements for access to buildings. It is written in the style of the access provisions of the BCA and includes all the detail of where and in what buildings access is required. It covers issues like numbers of accessible entrances, where Braille signage needs to be provided, the number and location of accessible toilets and spaces in cinemas and the use of tactile ground surface indicators.

In general this Access Code tells those responsible for buildings when and where access is required and then refers to technical specification documents such as Australian Standard 1428.1 to describe how to design and build in an accessible way.

An important point to note is that the Premises Standards will only apply to new buildings and new work (renovations) on existing buildings. An existing building not undergoing any new work will still be subject to the current complaints mechanisms of the law.

Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards Guidelines 2009

This document provides additional information about the content of the Premises Standards in order to assist in understanding and applying the Premises Standards. It also provides an outline of the major access requirements. For people not used to working through the technical documents of building regulation this may be the best document to start with.

Summary of main Australian Standards referenced in the Access Code

As previously mentioned the Access Code (and BCA) refers to a number of Australian Standards (AS) to provide details of technical design and construction. The main AS is AS 1428.1. These referenced AS are all also being reviewed and changed to reflect the requirements of the Access Code. For example there are new circulation space dimensions for accessible toilets and lifts and new specifications for features such as turning spaces on corridors. This document provides a brief overview of significant changes.

A model process to administer building access for people with a disability ‘The Protocol'

This document is not part of the Premises Standards but describes an important mechanism that may be adopted by State and Territory building Administrations to deal with questions relating to the application of the proposed new BCA.

As mentioned earlier once the Premises Standards have been finalised the intention is for the ABCB to propose changes to the BCA to reflect the Premises Standards and for these changes to be adopted by States and Territories in their building laws.

When this happens it is likely that some developers or certifiers will seek advice about whether or not a proposed building solution meets the requirements of the BCA and in exceptional circumstances whether or not the full application of the BCA applies.

This document describes that model for dealing with these questions.

Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport Amendment 2009

This document simply serves to transfer from the Public Transport Standard the requirements and compliance dates for transport related buildings into the Premises Standards.

Regulation Impact Statement

This document is the updated assessment of costs and the benefits associated with the Premises Standards.

Frequently asked questions

Over the next few months there are certain to be many questions about the content of the Premises Standards. While responsibility for the draft rests with the Attorney General the Australian Human Rights Commission will try to maintain a Frequently asked Question resource on its website at http://humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/buildings/access_to_premises.html

If you would like to be placed on an e mail list providing updates on the Premises Standards contact michael.small@humanrights.gov.au