Brett Fennell, Director BuildSurv at the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors State Conference in Adelaide.

Access, risk management and value-adding for building certifiers in South Australia

As demand for specialist access consulting services steadily grows, Architecture & Access caught up with Brett Fennell, Director of BuildSurv Building Surveyors and Certifiers, at the recent Australian Institute of Building Surveyors State Conference in Adelaide to talk accessibility, risk management and value-adding.

A&A: It was great to hear you raise the topic of specialist consulting in your presentation to SA building surveyors, can you tell us more about the types of projects that trigger your need for an access consultant?

Brett: I think it is important for building certifiers to seek specialist input in any area where there are gaps in our expertise. The Building Code is so diverse now, we can’t be expert on everything, and accessibility is one of the more technical and complex areas.

Being an access consultant myself, I can take care of the general areas of access to buildings, ramps, glazing, sanitary provision and location, but there are projects where I need the help of a more experienced access consultant such as an accredited member of the Association of Consultants in Access Australia, such as:

  • Public building projects where the client is requiring assurance that accessibility has been thoroughly considered. Councils are typical clients for this type of project.
  • When a client has specified the requirement for an access report as part of the design brief.
  • Undertaking an access audit of new or existing buildings
  • When an access requirement falls outside the scope of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. For example, we get asked for advice about reception counters, wayfinding or luminance contrast. These are quite specialised aspects of accessibility that call up specific Standards.

    Also, if I’m unsure of an interpretation or how to apply it, then an access consultant can help me to formulate advice or I may directly refer the client to them.

    Occasionally, clients want to include access consulting in the scope of work. In those situations, I would partner up with an access consultant with a scope of services or else send a client their way.

    A&A: There has been some recent industry discussion about the issue of conflict of interest for building surveyors. What are your thoughts on this?

    Brett: I think this is more of a perceived issue than a widespread problem in South Australia. Building certifiers would have a conflict of interest where they are asked to provide input into the design and documentation on a building to using performance solutions to assist their assessment and then provide the building rules consent after.

    We definitely try to keep to the provision of advice fairly basic in nature and then use a separate specialist access consultant on any project where conflict of interest could be seen as an issue or if there were any performance solutions sought.

    A&A: Where do you carry the most risk in meeting your responsibilities for ensuring access to buildings and facilities for people with disability?

    Brett: If accessibility is not addressed properly a project can be at risk of delays in achieving certification and starting construction.

    Risk may also exist under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) because there are items outside the mandatory requirements of the building code and regulations, such as building fitout and wayfinding, that could present significant barriers for people with disability. If a discrimination complaint were to be made, this would be likely to result in costly procedures and remedial works to address the complaint.

    There are occasions when Building Rules Consent is sought on documentation that may not be detailed enough to confirm compliance of items such as luminance contrast, door hardware or visual indicators, so certification is not always a guarantee that accessibility has been thoroughly addressed.

    There are many items not mandatory under the BCA that will improve access, however, some clients don’t perceive compliance with areas outside the mandatory requirements as a big risk, so it would be outside our scope on a lot of projects. In cases where I felt the need to raise issues, I would be looking for a second opinion to support the raising of issues to the attention of the client. It’s good to its good to share risk under these circumstances.

    A&A: We still have a long way to go in educating people about the wider benefits of accessibility in creating the best possible facility that can be used by all people – including parents with prams, older people, people with injuries as well as people with vision and mobility impairment.

    What do you think are the main barriers for building certifiers in engaging more with access consultants?

    Brett: We need to look at ways of creating more demand from the client side. For many building certifiers, I think the key is promoting the added value that access consulting offers by raising issues to the attention of clients, perhaps without necessarily producing a detailed report.

    If the budget is not already there for specialist consulting, clients and certifiers need to know that the service is not going to add too much to the cost.

    We are finding more architects are aware of this and try to be proactive, but are generally at the mercy of the client with regards to costs.

    A&A: Thanks for your time Brett. We definitely appreciate that advice. Our services are cost-effective and easily incorporated into the building surveyors scope, and include assessing design plans as well as the full range of services you mentioned.

    Brett Fennell is a Director of BuildSurv – Building Surveyors and Certifiers in Adelaide.

    More information about Architecture & Access services for Building Certifiers and Surveyors, or to discuss your project, please contact us on 1300 715 866 and ask for Grant Wooller in our Adelaide office.

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