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Can a school chock open safety doors for the sake of practicality?

Q: My employer, a school principal, has made the decision to keep a fire-rated door in the library where I work chocked open during school hours, as this would have less of an impact on the students, instead of them opening and closing the door to access the library.

The school had an inspection on all fire-rated doors in May and the librarian was told that it was illegal to have the door chocked open. But this was rectified for only a few days.

Can the principal override what has been legislated?

A: A person cannot override the work health and safety obligations provided under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW).

Under section 19, a person conducting an undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to eliminate or minimise, so far as reasonably practicable, the risks to the health and safety of workers and other persons, which includes employees, students and other visitors in the workplace. This duty extends to ensuring fire safety in the workplace, and a PCBU therefore has a legal obligation to:

a. take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of a fire or explosion;
b. ensure they are prepared for a fire or explosion; and
c. notify the health and safety regulator if a fire-related incident occurs.

The use of fire doors assists a PCBU in discharging their obligations by taking all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the risk of a fire spreading in the workplace, as fire doors are installed to stop the spread of fire. To restrict the spread of fire and smoke, these doors must not be chocked open for any reason. The use of chocks in the manner that you have described is a fire hazard and should be addressed.

Additional information can be found under regulation 184 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (NSW).

Please note: The answer is correct at the time of publishing. Be aware that laws may change over time. Refer to Obligations and standards for current advice.

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