Combustible cladding: What it means for property owners

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London Combustible cladding has been blamed for the devastating fire that engulfed London’s Grenfell Tower in June this year, and has undoubtedly sparked concerns over the cladding used on buildings across Australia. While the Grenfell fire is not the first time aluminium cladding has caused a rapid spread of fire, it is the first of its kind to involve the significant loss of life.

In November 2014, the Lacrosse apartments fire in Melbourne’s Docklands was attributed to the use of composite aluminium cladding on the building’s façade. A post-incident report stated that the aluminium composite panels were not approved for external use on a high-rise building in Australia. The Victorian Building Authority later audited some 170 high-rise buildings in Melbourne and found that 51% of those audited contained non-compliant cladding.

The jury is still out on whether incorrect installation played a part in the Grenfell Tower fire, or whether the product itself is to blame.

 

A senate enquiry is underway

The Australian government is currently investigating non-conforming building products used locally. The committee is scheduled to hand down its final report on the issue in October 2017.

Inter-government agencies in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have also been set up to fast-track the investigation.

One senator on the committee has called for an audit of apartments in Australia to search for dangerous cladding. If auditing is considered necessary, owners of buildings may be issued orders to remove non-compliant cladding materials, and the product may be prohibited nationally.

In addition to Bill Shorten’s call for a nationalisation of fire safety standards, the National Fire Industry Association (NFIA) has called on the government to mandate higher standards.

“NFIA believes that the government should introduce legislation that ensures all fire safety systems are designed, installed, maintained and certified only by those practitioners with appropriate skills, knowledge and nationally-recognised qualifications,” says NFIA CEO Wayne Smith.

 

New South Wales has expedited fire safety reform

On July 28, 2017, the New South Wales government announced a 10-point plan that will ensure unsafe building products are taken off the shelves, buildings with cladding are identified and owners are notified, and that only people with the necessary skills and experience certify buildings and sign off on fire safety.

Many of the elements of the 10-point plan are already underway, including the establishment of a taskforce. However, details of the reform, such as a building product safety scheme; industry-based accreditation for fire safety inspections; and tougher regulation for building certifiers, has yet to be established.

 

Premature building audits may be redundant 

The level of certification needed is yet to be determined

While some organisations are suggesting owners corporations and bodies corporate arrange independent building audits, PICA Group’s Principal Licensee and Manager of Regulation, Adrian Carr, warns that we don’t yet know who the appropriate experts are to conduct such an audit and what level of certification needs to be applied.

“Similar to the issue of asbestos and loose-fill asbestos, we are dealing with a defective building product.

“Just as the New South Wales government developed a strategy and provided expertise and funding to address asbestos in buildings, we need to allow government to again provide the leadership and legislative solution on this new defective building product.”

 

Compliant fire safety procedures is paramount

While we wait for a definitive response from the Australian government, owners should review and ensure their fire safety procedures are compliant and working properly.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services has put together The Fire Safety Management Tool for Owner/Occupier, to assist owner/occupiers in managing in accordance to Queensland compliance.

 

We will continue to monitor and communicate any developments as they happen. Get the highlights on our Facebook page @thepicagroup.