Issue 21 – October 2010
In this issue of Touchstone Debbie Chin, our Chief Executive Officer looks at how New Zealand's Building Code and Standards have been tested in the Canterbury earthquake . . . and they passed. Standardisation and good systems in place – from a robust building code to a comprehensive emergency response system – protected Canterbury.
World Standards Day on 14 October 2010 raises awareness of accessibility. We feature an interview with Bill Wrightson about how accessibility impacts everyone. Bill has been involved in the development of New Zealand's building access and mobility Standard NZS 4121 since its inception. Bill has been a wheelchair user since he was 21.
We also look at the revised Safety and inspection of electrical equipment Standard AS/NZS 3760:2010 and the revised Fire alarm systems in buildings Standard NZS 4512:2010.
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From Hawke's Bay to Canterbury – a tale of two earthquakes and Standards New Zealand
By Debbie Chin, Chief Executive Officer, Standards New Zealand.
New Zealand's Building Code and Standards have been tested more rigorously than at any time since Standard's New Zealand's genesis following the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake . . . and they passed.
Years of strong building Standards
On 4 September 2010 Canterbury experienced its biggest modern day natural disaster, which will be the most costly our country has ever faced.
The statistics are sobering:
- The Treasury estimates the overall cost will top $4 billion
- the Earthquake Commission is expecting up to 100,000 claims
- hundreds of houses and other buildings will have to be demolished.
But the most unbelievable reality of all is that no one was killed. In the words of the city's Mayor: 'Everyone has lost something, but nobody has lost anyone'.
Said Hugh Morris, Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Auckland: 'The survival of large buildings in Christchurch is testament to the quality of the New Zealand construction Standards based on the work done at Canterbury and Auckland – and the work of the entire engineering earthquake community in the past 50 years.
'The earthquake caused major ground deformation under a lot of light timber framed houses and in spite of houses suffering major foundation issues, people were still safe within them due to good Standards and general construction practices.
'New Zealand has high-quality building codes and Standards that are the result of many years of research and collaboration between universities, engineering consultants, the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, government agencies, seismologists, and others.'
Standards New Zealand founded from debris of Hawke's Bay quake
As our nation gives thanks, it is worth remembering that Standards New Zealand was founded out of the debris of the Hawke's Bay earthquake, when the then government decided that New Zealand needed an effective set of building codes.
The following is a frightening description of what happened during the Hawke's Bay earthquake, from the government's The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand website TeAra.govt.nz:
'As buildings began to disintegrate many people fled outdoors into a lethal rain of chunks from ornate facades, parapets, and cornices. Buildings swayed violently and their walls bulged and collapsed into the streets in avalanches of brick and masonry that crushed vehicles and people.
Roofs caved in on buildings that had large open internal areas, such as churches, libraries, and theatres. In some buildings the internal floors pulled free of the swaying walls, collapsing inward in a jumble of girders, wood, and plaster.'
Up to 260 people are reported to have died in the magnitude 7.8 Hawke's Bay earthquake.
The fact that not a single person was killed in Canterbury is testimony to the far-sightedness of that government decision after the Hawke's Bay earthquake, and the work of Standards New Zealand that was founded the following year.
Preventing loss of life and devastation
Standards New Zealand was formed to ensure future such events did not result in the same loss of life and devastation.
In fact, Standards New Zealand developed New Zealand's first earthquake Standard in its first year. There are now more than 650 building-related New Zealand Standards.
Many of these Standards provide a means for designers and builders to comply with the New Zealand Building Code – all of which benefit industry and New Zealand communities.
Standards development processes in New Zealand are very robust; indeed, they are often seen as an international Standard in themselves.
From an international perspective, the value of Standards and standardisation was highlighted by the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile earlier this year. Journalists around the world compared the two countries' earthquake preparedness and responses.
While the Sydney Morning Herald's headline following Chile's earthquake – 'Chile was ready for quake, Haiti wasn't' – isn't the whole story, the two countries do present interesting lessons.
Standardisation and good systems in place – from a robust building code to a comprehensive emergency response system – have protected Chile. And Canterbury. While the damage was great for both, the seismic events did not shake the very foundations of each country.
At the other end of the spectrum the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 has been catastrophic. An estimated 230,000 people died, including 17% of all government workers, so getting the bureaucracy operational in Haiti again will take years.
According to CNN, 6 months after the event as much as 98% of the rubble remained uncleared and 1.6 million Haitians were still living in relief camps. Most of the camps still had no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal.
Here in New Zealand we owe a lot to those people who had the foresight to think about the need for Standards.
While things have greatly changed since the 1931 earthquake, one thing that has remained constant is Standards New Zealand's work to provide solutions that help deliver social and economic benefits.
Accessibility – it impacts on everyone
World Standards Day on 14 October 2010 raises awareness of accessibility for everyone. Standards New Zealand spoke to Bill Wrightson, who is impacted by accessibility every day. Bill has been involved in the development of New Zealand's building access and mobility Standard NZS 4121 for nearly 30 years. Bill has been a wheelchair user since he was 21.
What does accessibility mean to you?
At some stage everyone is going to be disabled in one way or another as they age and they will need 'accessibility' – it's not just about accessibility for disabled people now.
Accessibility means people can come and go with as little restriction as possible. Accessibility covers many issues – the built environment, public spaces, information, transport systems, and generally just getting about in your personal environment.
When I was 21 I had a car accident and I broke my neck. I became a tetraplegic and a permanent wheelchair user. Back then there were poor surface finishes, no kerb ramps, and no ramps into buildings – there was absolutely nothing set up for accessibility for disabled people. I depended on other people to cart me around.
What motivated me was the hostility of the built environment. Everywhere I went I was in a hostile environment. I was training to be a school teacher in maths and the school was totally inaccessible. I had to be pulled up steps in my wheelchair, there were no accessible toilets. At university it was a management exercise to get me into lectures. I had to wait for someone to help me into the building.
I decided to put my energy into creating an accessible built environment. I've been on the NZS 4121 committee since 1981 and I chaired the latest revision in 2001.
How does New Zealand's building access and mobility Standard help accessibility?
Design for access and mobility: Buildings and associated facilities NZS 4121:2001 enables everyone, including people with disabilities, to access and use buildings.
Compliance with the access requirements in NZS 4121 provides a safer environment for everyone and ensures that the things disabled people use every day are accessible. It's the consistency of implementation of Standards and the compliance with access legislation and compliance documents that're critical, to enable things to work properly and to provide accessibility.
NZS 4121 presents accessibility requirements in an 'accessible route' sequence, where all of the detail needs to be right to enable disabled people to negotiate the route. It's connecting up everything, everywhere, for a continuous path of travel – considering all access requirements, from how we move from the built environment into a public space, then how we move in the public space, then how we move into another building.
For disabled people, consistency of detail is critical. For example, the accessible toilet – it's taken years to evolve its layout and placement of fittings to create the widest possible usage for the widest range of disabilities. If the accessible toilet has the same layout and placement of utilities wherever you go, users know that they are headed into a familiar environment.
How can accessibility be improved?
NZS 4121 has played a huge part in securing rights, for everyone, to approach, access, and use buildings. The vast improvement in accessibility of public buildings is a credit to the efforts of the disability lobby and the architects, building control officials, and others who have continued to 'lift their game' in implementing access requirements.
I'd like to see accessibility incorporated into thinking and planning for the built environment, public spaces, information, and transport systems right from the early stages. For example, in a new building it's easier to consider accessibility early on, such as including a lift, than having to retrofit the building later.
The next revision of NZS 4121 needs to identify requirements for specific building types and facilities, for example, for accommodation, hospitals, educational institutions, and large event venues.
Nowadays my biggest disappointment is that I can't get into people's houses. New commercial buildings are accessible and there are accessibility solutions for existing and old buildings, but work still needs to be done in the domestic area.
Bill Wrightson is the principal of Wrightson Associates, independent building usability consultants. He is the chairperson-elect of The Barrier Free NZ Trust, a member of the Access Advisory Panel of the Department of Building and Housing, and is completing his PhD in the School of Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington.