Participants are Paramount: Ensuring Safety in Specialist Disability Accommodation

From (Ms) Joe Manton – Director, Access Institute

In Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme provides support to eligible individuals in various types of Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA). New residential accommodation buildings must comply with the National Construction Code (NCC) and adhere to the SDA Design Standard. However, there are concerns regarding the application of NCC classifications to SDA and the level of safety provided.

The Australian Building Codes Board recently released an article that clarifies the issue of NCC classifications for SDA. It states that Classes 1a, 1b, 2, and 3 can each be appropriate for specific types of SDA, depending on the nature of the building. For instance, a house or townhouse accommodating people with disabilities would typically fall under Class 1a, while a larger house for individuals requiring caregiver assistance could be classified as Class 3.

Fire safety is a critical aspect of health, safety, and amenity in buildings. The NCC mandates fire sprinklers in Class 2 and 3 buildings but does not require them in Class 1a buildings. This may not adequately suit the needs of individuals with disabilities. To address this, the SDA Design Standard specifies additional building features to cater to the diverse needs of people with disabilities, including building access and utilisation.

While the SDA Design Standard notes that the inclusion of sprinklers is desirable, it does not mandate them in Class 1b buildings. However, considering the high-risk individuals with disabilities may face in emergencies, there is a strong argument for making fire sprinklers mandatory in all SDA. The NCC aims to achieve nationally consistent safety standards, and enforcing sprinkler requirements would align with this goal.

If the NCC does not enforce mandatory sprinklers in all SDA, it should be addressed in the upcoming update of the SDA Design Standard in 2023. Relying on voluntary implementation by developers is naive, as not all developers fully understand the needs of SDA participants and may prioritise cost over safety. The final choice of participants in selecting their SDA is influenced by effective fire safety measures, and those dwellings that have not considered participant safety needs may be lower on their preference list.

It is crucial to prioritise the needs of SDA participants and ensure that SDA meets their requirements. Failure to do so not only leads to dissatisfaction among participants but also results in fewer appropriate SDA options available. Adequate fire safety measures are particularly important for people with disabilities, as they are among the most vulnerable in emergencies. Worldwide examples highlight the dire consequences when effective fire reduction and evacuation systems are lacking.

The safety requirements of people with disabilities should not be overlooked; it is a matter of human rights. The absence of mandated requirements for basic fire sprinklers in all SDA exemplifies how profit sometimes takes precedence over participant well-being. It is a potential disaster waiting to happen and demands immediate attention.

To read the full article by the Australian Building Codes Board, visit 

By prioritising the safety of participants, we can create SDA that not only meets the needs of individuals with disabilities but also provides them with a secure and supportive living environment.

See details of our SDA Assessor courses at 

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