Think safety during maintenance

This Issue This is a part of the Maintenance feature

By - , Build 124

When carrying out maintenance or renovations to buildings, there are several things that can be done to make the environment safer for building users.

Safety glass should be used in glazed doors and side panels next to doors, glazed roofs and shower screens.

Most of the buildings we live and work in were built before the Building Act was first enacted in 1991. While not mandatory, there are a number of areas where the performance of the building can be upgraded to bring it into line with current requirements such as:

  • glazing safety
  • slip resistance
  • earthquake resistance of building elements and furniture
  • fire safety.

Bringing safety to glazing

Many older buildings have glazed doors and side panels next to doors, glazed roofs and conservatories, and glass in furniture and shower screens that may not meet current requirements for preventing injury if the glass is broken. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, some houses were red stickered because shards of glass used in roof glazing posed a danger to occupants should they enter.

Safety glass should be used in glazed doors and side panels next to doors, glazed roofs and shower screens.

NZS 4223.3:1999 Code of practice for glazing in buildings – Human impact safety requirements sets out the requirements for the use of grade A safety glazing (laminated glass, toughened glass or safety glazing plastic). Incorporating its requirements into existing parts of a building is recommended.

Adding slip resistance

Providing slip-resistant walk-on surfaces in buildings is one way to reduce the significant number of slip, trip and fall accidents that happen, particularly in homes.

Areas where slip resistance should be provided to make floors safer when wet (D1/AS1 considers this to be a coefficient of friction of at least 0.4 when wet) are:

  • bathroom and laundry floors
  • decks – both timber slatted and waterproofed decks
  • tiled entries and decks
  • base of showers and baths.

Walk-on surfaces will be safer when:

  • carpet that is worn (such as bare patches or loose seams) or not tautly stretched is replaced
  • loose-laid rugs are secured around their edges
  • decks and timber steps are regularly maintained – regularly cleaned, particularly in shady situations or where frost is likely
  • tiles and other floor finishes are laid without lipped edges
  • single isolated steps or small changes in level are avoided.

Improving earthquake resistance

There are areas where a building can be made safer during an earthquake, particularly during alteration work.


Have a qualified person inspect the masonry chimneys and free-standing firewalls. If considered a risk, can the masonry be tied into the structure to restrain it or is it safer to demolish? In the case of a masonry firewall, specific fire safety reconstruction requirements apply.

Where a chimney services an open fire or inbuilt firebox, is it possible to replace the demolished masonry with a metal flue?

Replace older-style heavy chimney pots. These are not usually well secured to the chimney.

Check that wood burners are fixed to the structure to prevent them moving when a building shakes. Some older, free-standing wood burners may need to be replaced if they cannot be readily anchored to the floor structure.

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Add lateral support to the suspended pile floor structures of older buildings (see Strengthening piled foundations in Build 121 December 2010/January 2011, pages 31–32).

Check the condition of subfloor fixings and replace any that have corroded or are missing.

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  • Secure water cylinders and header tanks to prevent them overturning. When a header tank is mounted on a stand to increase the head, the stand should also be laterally braced or tied to the structure. More detail is given in G12/AS1 Figure 14.
  • Secure shelf-mounted appliances, such as microwaves. It may be easier to install a matching bead along the front edge of the shelf to prevent the appliance sliding off during a shake. A similar detail can help prevent items falling off pantry shelves and the like.
  • Ensure the securing screws for wall-mounted ovens and free-standing stoves are in place.
  • Restrain fridges and freezers to prevent them toppling or moving across the floor. One option is to fix a batten or bead to the floor in front of the unit’s feet.
  • Fit cupboard doors with a latch that will hold them shut – damage to crockery and food stored in glass containers can be minimised if cupboard doors remain closed during an earthquake.
  • Tie tall free-standing furniture back to the structure to prevent it overturning.

Fire safety more than alarms

Adding smoke alarms is a mandatory requirement when any consented work is undertaken in a domestic building. Other fire safety aspects of renovation work include:

  • selecting non-flammable fabrics and furnishings to minimise the risk of fire
  • maintaining sufficient clearances around heating and cooking appliances
  • adding additional power and lighting circuits so that existing circuits are not overloaded from the large number of appliances used in modern homes.

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Safety glass should be used in glazed doors and side panels next to doors, glazed roofs and shower screens.