The Importance of Facilities
for Disabled People in our Buildings
The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act was amended and published by the Department of Trade and Industry in May 2008. Some parts of the Act were affected more than others; some changed very little. Part S, which deals with facilities for disabled people (or persons) is one section that had changed radically.
In fact, according to Ron Watermeyer, a civil engineer, chairperson of Standards South Africa’s Technical Committee for Construction Standards and a member of the secretariat of the Inter-ministerial Task Team for Construction Industry Development (amongst other things), it is one of 12 parts that has been “fundamentally rewritten”. The reason, of course lies in the motivation for changing the National Building Regulations in the first place. Dr Watermeyer was tasked with rewriting the SABS document, now referred to as SANS 10400 (rather than the original SABS 0400), which contains “deemed-to-satisfy” rules. And according to him, the motivation was based on several factors. By 2008, when the Act was last amended, there had been numerous changes to South African society, and these directly affected the building industry. More specifically, he said:
- the apartheid system was no longer applicable,
- local authorities throughout the country had been completely restructured,
- the National Home Builders Registration Council had been formed,
- South Africa’s population had more than doubled,
- building control and systems had become increasingly complex,
- new and innovative construction systems had been introduced.
If you’ve ever read Section 24 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, you will know that: “everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.” Since the buildings in which we live are an integral part of our environment, the implication is that constitutionally they MUST be safe. So the primary motivation regarding changes to the Act was to make them safer than ever before. And of course this meant that it was imperative that anything relating to disabled persons, and their facilities, had to be upgraded.
What the Act Says in Terms of Facilities to be Provided for Disabled People
The essential requirements of the National Building Regulations (in terms of facilities for disabled people or persons) are that:
1. People with disabilities should be able to safely enter the building and be able to safely use all the facilities within it – specifically toilets.
2. There must be a means of access that is suitable for people with disabilities to use. In addition, access must be available from various approaches of the building via the main entrance and any secondary entrances, and should lead to the ground floor.
3. There must be a means of egress (a point of departure) that is suitable for people with disabilities to use in the event of any sort of emergency. This relates to any sort of emergency, but in addition, a further clause states that departure routes (or egress) must also be designed in accordance with Part T of the regulations, namely the section that relates to Fire Protection.
4. Lifts in buildings must be able to serve the needs of disabled people. This includes ensuring that any commonly used “path of travel” MUST be free of any sort of obstacles that would limit, restrict or endanger people with disabilities who use that route. There must also be absolutely no obstacles that will prevent people with disabilities from accessing facilities within the building. The regulations refer specifically to people with impaired vision, but clearly they also relate to people in wheelchairs, or people who have trouble walking freely.
5. Buildings that incorporate halls or auditoriums for public use are obliged to ensure that a reasonable percentage of space is available for people in wheelchairs or other “assistive devices”.
In addition to these clauses, the National Building Regulations also state that where there is parking available for more than 50 motor vehicles, there must be parking facilities that accommodate disabled persons. There is also an obligation to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with a suitable means of access from the parking area to the ground floor – or storey – of the building.
Of course this also means that the “deemed-to-satisfy” rules have changed.
According to this section of SANS 10400, The application of the National Building Regulations Part S: Facilities for persons with disabilities, “Establishes requirements for external and internal circulation routes, including doors and doorways, ramps, stairways, handrails, lifts, toilet facilities, auditoriums and halls, obstructions in the path of travel, parking and indication of facilities.”
Get your copy from the SABS online store or directly from them in Pretoria (head office), Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth or East London. The ISBN number is 978-0-626-25219-9, and it sells for R134 plus VAT.