If all doors were required to hinge from the top and have handles and latches located within 200 mm from the floor can you imagine the outcry. Well this is how many people with disabilities feel when they struggle to get in or out of a building or office, that has not provided access suitable for them.
But isn’t this article about exemptions? It is, it is about valid exemptions that are considered at the start and from part of the design. Every building has to be designed to allow access of its occupants to and within the building. The question is do all areas have to have access that has features to enable use by people with disabilities and if not how do you justify an exemption.
D3.4 of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) is the clause that details exemptions to the access provisions.
This clause defines two area where access is not required to have features to enable use by people with disabilities:
- An area where access would be inappropriate because of the particular purpose for which the area is used.
- An area that would pose a health or safety risk for people with a disability.
Let’s consider an example
A 70 square metre clothes shop in a shopping centre has the following:
- Service counter and store room containing sink for hygiene and coffee making.
- 3 staff with flexible rosters subject to attendance during core periods when two staff must be in the store.
- All staff must be able to do all the duties to cover for each other when needed.
- Duties and responsibilities include opening and closing the store including the front roller door, vacuum daily and as needed, cleaning the glass shop-front daily and as necessary, unpacking and hanging cloths, preparing display windows and in shop displays, servicing customers etc.
Access Design Consideration
The shop has both a public area and a work area that overlap. The occupants of the shop are both the public and employees however they use the space differently. One shops in it, the other works in it. The use of the shop is different for the shopper then it is for the worker.
Can it exist that the same area can have two uses and one of those uses requires access while the other doesn’t? I believe it can.
The public use the public area of the shop to shop and therefore the public area has to be totally accessible. There is no grounds for an exemption under D3.4 for the public area of a shop.
The workers area on the other hand may be eligible for exemption under D3.4. This is not going to remove the need for access where the public and work areas overlap, however it may exempt the restricted areas from being accessible.
The workers use the work area while they carry out their work duties and responsibilities.
Used as a work area it is possible that the duties and responsibilities of the workers would not require the work area to be accessible, however as stated above where the work area overlapped with public area it would have to be accessible. Therefore, if the exemption was applicable to the work area, the restricted areas would become the only areas where the exemption would apply.
So the question now gets consolidated down to “Do the duties and responsibilities of all the staff working in the work area (the complete shop) create an area where access would be inappropriate because of the particular purpose for which the area is used.”
In the case of our small shop it seems creditable that all the duties and responsibilities of all 3 staff employed in the shop would create a work area where access would be inappropriate because of the particular purpose for which the area is used.
Therefore I believe it is creditable that a D3.4 Exemption could be applied to the restricted work are in this example.
Making a D3.4 Exemption part of the building application
It is not enough to just say over the phone or with a note on the plan that we want to apply for an exemption under 3.4 for this area because the area is inappropriate for the particular purpose for which it is used. The exemption has to be justified as part of the application documentation so that the building certifier can assess it and apply the exemption under D3.4.
I have prepared a example Letter Requesting D3.4 Exemption that the applicant would prepare on behalf of the design team and the owner for submission with the building application. It is important to note that the owner, designer and all the persons to which the premises standard apply should agree with the proposal being submitted with the building application.
Remember every case will be different and every case needs to be assessed on its merits, however as we all know, collecting appropriate information at the front end of the design will save a lot of heart ache.