Amendments to Part S of the Building Regulations

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has split and become the South African National Standards (SANS), who produce the Standards, and the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), whose job it is to enforce the standards by applying the Regulations.

The new version of the Building Regulations Part S (relating to environmental access for people with disabilities) will eventually be published as SANS 10400 Part S towards the end of March 2009.

The motivation for amending the Regulations, and the Deemed to Satisfy Rules of Part S and the other parts of the Building Regulations was not to massively update them but for historic reasons. When SABS 0400 was first published in 1990, the different Parts of the Regulations were bound together making it impossible to update any single part because, to do this, the whole document had to be updated.

Out of desperation, the disability sector worked with the South African Bureau of Standards to publish another document, SABS 0246 which came out in 1993 and improved on the Deemed to Satisfy Rules in the SABS 0400. It is the most recent SABS document on environmental access but is also over ten years old. Its validity was always questionable legally due to a legal clarification from SABS themselves that said other standards (even if more recent) could not take precedent over the original Deemed to Satisfy Rules.

So, SABS eventually decided that, due to the problems with Part S and other Parts, they should split the Siamese Twins, as it were, and allow all Parts to develop separately. This provided an opportunity to amend the Regulations and the Deemed to Satisfy rules in three ways:

  • The relationship with other Parts of the Building Regulation was refined.
  • The Regulations have been ‘tweaked’. They could not be rewritten, as this requires a lengthy legal process, including an impact assessment to gauge the effect on the construction industry. However, the opportunity was used to see how, within the confines of the current language of the document; the application could be stretched. Although certain changes were possible, more needs to be done to change the actual regulation.
  • The Deemed to Satisfy Rules were changed. These are now in the final stages of approval, and have just received the last round of comments.

Relationship with other Parts of the Regulation

Part S still has the same relationship with other Parts of the Building Regulations. However, in Part T, which covers fire, it specifically states that it covers ‘the protection of occupants or users, including persons with disabilities, therein is ensured and that provision is made for the safe evacuation of such occupants or users.’ This means that all buildings to which Part T applies, have to allow for the safe evacuation of people with disabilities.

Changes to the Regulation

The Regulation is published alongside the Deemed to Satisfy Rules and specifies which building types Part S applies to and how it should apply to these buildings. It also stipulates who Part S applies to. The changes that have been made are:
Building types: The application of the Regulation was extended to cover low risk storage and to motivate the hotel industry to include more rooms for people in wheelchairs in small hotels, not just the large ones. However, there are larger buildings that are still not covered and should be.

To whom Part S applies: Part S used to apply to people in wheelchairs, people who can walk but are unable to use the stairs and people with impaired vision. Now it uses the definition provided in the UN Convention; ergo it applies to people who have a physical, sensory, mental or intellectual impairment, and experience barriers that affect their ability to participate in society.

How Part S Applies:

  • Part S has benefi ted from a closer link to Part T. Effectively; if you have to be able to get out of a building you must be able to enter it. Any egress route has to be accessible. Any entrance route that is used as an egress route (and all main entrance routes are) has to be accessible. So rather than one route being accessible into the building, all main entrance routes have to be.
  • People with disabilities must now be able to escape to a place of safety from any where in the building.
  • All routes used in the building to any facility must be free of any obstacle whatsoever whether it ‘limits, restricts, endangers or prevents’ a person with a disability from accessing the facility.
  • Car parking and lift access remain the same and desperately need to be addressed; the situation still means that provision of car parking spaces for people with disabilities only needs to be made in car parks that have more than 50 car parking spaces. Also, a building with more than a single storey does not have to provide lift access.
  • Toilet provision is defined as ‘adequate’ and the rationalization of ‘adequate’ is provided in the Deemed to Satisfy Rules.
  • Seating in auditoria now has to provide for people with mobility impairments rather than just people in wheelchairs, and also for people who use guide dogs.

Why not universal access?

Universal access should obviously be the definitive standard in a document on environmental access but Building Regulations, unlike universal access, work with minimum standards. Universal access works with optimum standards. Whilst a final decision on the Deemed to Satisfy Rules has still not been made, it is highly unlikely that it will reach anywhere near universal access. The disability movement needs to join together and push for universal access as a minimum standard. Since one of the benefits of the changes is that a new Regulation and Standard can be published independently of the other Parts, the disability movements can work together to galvanise support for this as soon as humanly possible.

Another issue was whether Part S should be removed and its contents included in the other Parts enabling one Part to relate to issues of universal access for the South African public as a whole, not just people with disabilities. This discussion came too late for it to be included in the current changes.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act specifically refers to the SABS Regulations and Standards that govern environmental access (Chapter 9), and this clear link provides immense legal weight.
As the changes to the Building Regulation Part S only affect new, and not existing, buildings are they merely procedural changes? For people with disabilities the situation should be dwelt on for two reasons:

  • The Regulations and the Deemed to Satisfy Rules set the standard for environmental access; the expectation for what is the minimal accepted level of access in all buildings whatever their age. Human Rights legislation refers back to SABS standards. Both the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, and Employment Equity policy, use the Regulations and Rules that SANS writes and the NRCS enforces as a point of reference.
  • On the other hand, the new Rules and Regulations make absolutely no difference.

The biggest difference was made by William Bosch and the Association of People with Physical Disabilities in the Eastern Cape in 2006. Mr Bosch’s tenacity in using the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act showed that; however small a building was, however old it was, even if only a single service was delivered to the public from an inaccessible place, and even if the service provider was currently delivering the service by (what they considered to be) a reasonable alternative means; the service provider could still be found guilty of breaching the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and having failed in its duty to provide a service to persons with disabilities.
So if he can do it, can you?

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