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Ruth Newman Architect (RNA) is a multi-disciplinary architectural practice with expertise across Residential, Commercial, Government, Retail and Hospitality Design.

An alternative perspective on the cost of a toilet

Toilet

Toilets. It’s not something that probably crosses your mind when deciding on requirements for your commercial space. Of course, you know that you need one, but beyond that it is unlikely to have crossed your mind. Well, think again.

When building a new commercial space or renovating an existing building, there are several key pieces of legislation that will inform the decisions you need to make about toilets. These are:

  • National Construction Code (incorporating Building Code of Australia): This determines the number of toilets required based on the floor space, building use, type of business and number of people using the area.
  • Disability (Access to Premises-Buildings) Standards 2010 (commonly known asPremises Standards): Based on the size of the building, the number of floors and how the use of those floors is divided (eg is your business using the whole building, or just one floor?), this determines the number and location of unisex accessible toilets.
  • Australian Standard 1428.1, Design for access and mobility, Part 1: General requirements for access—New building work and Australian Standard 1428.2, Design for access and mobility, Part 2: Enhanced and additional requirements—Buildings and facilities: These prescribe the design and fit out requirements for accessible toilets.
  • Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992: What are the potential legal ramifications and penalties of not providing suitable accessible facilities?

The Premises Standards were developed in response to complaints based on the DDA to the Australian Human Rights Commission identified a significant gap between anti-discrimination law and building law in Australia. The aim of the Premises Standards is to ultimately ensure consistency between building law and the DDA. The trigger for the requirements of the Premises Standards being evoked is new building work that requires approval, including renovations.

A common refrain from clients is “I don’t need to provide accessible facilities. None of my employees are disabled, neither are my customers, and that’s not going to change.” But what if your best employee or most valuable client has a serious skiing injury? The point is that situations can change, serious accidents can happen, and providing appropriate facilities is an important element in being prepared for such life events.

And yes, providing an accessible toilet can be a big expense. At a typical 6 square metres in size, that area equates to around $3500 a year in rent just for one toilet at average Sydney commercial prices. For space in prestigious CBD retail environments, it could be as much as $50000 a year!

But the cost of not complying with various codes can be even greater. Resubmitting plans to council again and again is costly, not to mention stressful and time consuming. Legal action if somebody makes a complaint against you for not providing an accessible facility is even more expensive.

Taking proactive action to upgrade your building to meet the Premises Standards can protect your business from complaints based on the DDA. It also provides protection against the reputational firestorm that can quickly spread on social media, even if a formal complaint is not lodged, which can potentially lead to loss of sales and business partnerships.

Improving access to buildings for people with disabilities helps to ensure the greatest possible participation in the social and economic development of the community. Surely that’s worth some additional rental costs?

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