FIRE SAFE: Accommodation for RSE workers must have smoke alarms fitted three metres of each bedroom door, or in every room where a person sleeps.

SAFETY for seasonal workers will be a top priority in the coming months.

Opotiki District Council planning and regulatory group manager Gerard McCormack said the council would be working with accommodation providers to ensure that seasonal workers and those in temporary accommodation were housed in safe and compliant buildings.

“We have a good working relationship with key employers and some of the larger temporary-accommodation providers around town,” he said.

However, some additional accommo-dation providers had come to the council’s attention.

These were accommodating workers employed under New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonable Employer (RSE) visa programme and who might, or might not, have fully compliant worker accommodation.

“RSE workers are required to provide their accommodation details to Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment to get a visa for their stay,” Mr McCormack said.

Earlier this year, MBIE shared that list with the council so it could ensure it had all the local accommodation suppliers on the council books and that their buildings met the building code.

“It is important that workers have safe and sanitary accommodation – enough toilets and showers, enough space and facilities. Most importantly, they need to be safe with enough free and unobstructed exits in a fire,” Mr McCormack said.

“Many RSE workers won’t know New Zealand’s building requirements or what they can expect from seasonal worker accommodation – boarding houses, hostels and so on. And for some of those workers, because of Covid-19 there are other uncertainties around visas, work, and travel home. It’s now even more important to ensure that their accommodation is safe and healthy,”

Mr McCormack said the council would be working alongside accommodation providers to help them meet code obligations where possible, but MBIE required the council to take relevant enforcement action when necessary.

“Where possible, we will help accommodation providers get up to speed with the building code, their legal obligations and what needs to be done to be compliant,” he said.

“Many will have received letters in the last week or so advising building owners that they may need building consent and resource consent to continue to provide RSE accommodation.”

All RSE accommodation must be fire safe

MOST of Opotiki RSE accommodation providers do well with fire safety, but Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s fire risk management officer Jon Rewi worries about unknown accommodation providers.

“I have a good working relationship with the key employers and most, if not all, accommodation providers – and I meet with companies on a regular basis, giving home fire safety advice to seasonal workers when required,” he said.

“This covers cooking, safe practices in the home environment, the importance of working smoke alarms and the evacuation of buildings.

Mr Rewi said most accommodation providers complied with all legislative requirements and often invited FENZ officers to their properties to provide advice, to assist with compliance and help with maintaining their approved evacuation schemes.

“My concerns are the unknown accommodation providers, private homes rented to groups of seasonal workers.”

He said a property had to be lawful and in good condition before being rented out.

“This includes requirements around buildings, health, and safety. Make sure any maintenance or repairs are done before tenants move in,” he said.

“All rental properties must have working smoke alarms and ceiling and underfloor insulation.”

New smoke alarms have to be photoelectric and have a long battery life or be hard-wired.

They must be installed within three metres of each bedroom door, or in every room where a person sleeps, and must be in each level of a multi-level home, in all rental homes, boarding houses, rental caravans, and self-contained sleep-outs.

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz