Proposed changes to safety laws would make buildings safer in fires, according to Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman, who will support amendments that are set to go before the ACT Legislative Assembly this year.
The proposed changes would require maintenance of fire safety systems in Canberra buildings to be carried out in accordance with an Australian standard that contains clear guidelines on how often building owners are required to have inspections.
Mr Gentleman said the new laws would be considered by the Assembly in the first six months of 2019, and enacted into law before the end of the year if passed.
"The government would also like to amend the legislation to provide clarity to regulators and the building industry about what constitutes a 'reasonable standard' of maintenance'," he said.
"These changes would result in safer buildings in Canberra."
Mr Gentleman said he was supporting the proposed changes on the advice of ACT Fire and Rescue.
Fire Protection Association Australia deputy chief executive Matthew Wright said the Australian standard that would be adopted under the proposed changes was recognised in the industry as "best practice".
He said it covered almost all active and passive fire protection systems and equipment you could expect to find in a building.
The lengthy list of systems covered by the standard includes sprinklers, fire hydrant systems, smoke and heat alarms, pumpsets, extinguishers and passive fire protection systems including fire doors.
"What [the proposed changes] will do is better prescribe what should have been happening already," Mr Wright said.
"The legislation, if you look at it now, says the systems and equipment in buildings should be maintained to a reasonable standard.
"Well, what is a reasonable standard? That’s the question mark that the proposed changes will address."
Mr Wright said the Australian standard contained the methodology for routine service of fire prevention systems, but it did not specify how each piece of equipment must perform in order to pass.
He said it instead dictated that the equipment must function as per the approved building design.
"It’s arguably generic, and it needs to be because all buildings have been approved at different times," Mr Wright said.
"Otherwise, to use a car analogy, every time there was an upgrade in standards, you'd be getting your 1976 Kingswood and putting an airbag in it.
"You just don't do that and it's the same with buildings.
"The standard is structured in a way that you can apply it regardless of the building’s age and the frequencies are appropriate."
Mr Gentleman's support for proposed changes to fire safety laws comes after an internationally renowned fire safety expert said the risk of a catastrophic fire was growing as more high-rises were built in Canberra.
Dr Jonathan Barnett, who chairs Engineers Australia's Society of Fire Safety, warned that "sloppy" commissioning and maintenance of fire prevention systems could put lives at risk.
He said in his experience, where a building was "a little dodgy, one way or another", complex things like fire safety systems hadn't been properly commissioned or maintained.
Poor building quality is in the spotlight in Canberra as an ACT Legislative Assembly committee conducts an inquiry into the issue.
The inquiry has now received 100 submissions, most of which detail shoddy construction work, building delays and wide-ranging concerns about a lack of regulation and oversight of the construction industry.