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    Fire danger of non-compliant cladding in spotlight across Australia as Melbourne audits buildings

    David Wheeldon

    Pictured: The Docklands Lacrosse apartment building fire in Melbourne last year. Image: watoday.com.au 

    Victorian authorities are auditing the cladding of 170 buildings around inner Melbourne to make sure they’re safe, following the last year's fire at a Docklands building, while Western Australia looks set to follow with its own investigations.

    The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is issuing audit notices to the relevant builders and building surveyors to ensure their buildings were built with cladding that is compliant.

    The authority intends to identify where else cladding may have been used in a non-compliant way.

    The Melbourne audit will target residential and public buildings with more than four storeys and constructed in inner-city Melbourne between January 2005 and April, 2015.

    The move follows a finding that external cladding used in the construction of the Lacrosse Apartments fuelled a fire that broke out last year, causing more than $2 million worth of damages.

    Meanwhile, on Friday (May 29) the WA Building Commission announced that it is working the VBA and the Australian Building Codes Board to identify structures which may contain the same aluminium composite cladding.

    A spokesperson for the WA watchdog said they will determine if they need to inspect all high-rise buildings in the state that were erected since 2005, stopping short of predicting how many building may be affected.

    The VBA has launched an investigation into the conduct of the Lacrosse Apartments’ builder, L U Simon, and building surveyor.

    The architects and project manager for the projects were not implicated the wall panelling issue.

    Alarm at fire risk

    A host of experts and others have sounded the alarm across mainstream media regarding the mounting risks due to the increasing number of cheap, non-compliant products being imported into Australia.

    Commissioned by Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the CSIRO tested the combustibility of the ‘Alucobest’ cladding used on the Lacrosse building. It caught fire in less than one minute.

    A major concern is that the non-compliant product when used would appear the same as a compliant product, with the same looking aluminium outside, however without the mineral fibre core inside which is fire resistant in a compliant alternative product.

    Fire Protection Association CEO Scott Williams said it may be impossible to tell the difference by eye, presenting a major challenge for building surveyors.

    "When a building is built and the product looks and feels the same ... unless they've got documentation and they've got evidence, really they're just taking a guess," he told the ABC.

    The audit

    The audit of 170 buildings will determine which buildings will require further investigation and uses the VBA's coercive powers to compel building practitioners to comply or face prosecution.

    The VBA said the audit was a targeted approach identifying the types of building and the locations where there was the greatest presence of high-rise residential buildings.

    “Other actions already underway by the VBA to identify the non-compliant use of cladding will continue. These include the investigation of practitioners involved in the Lacrosse building and a request to 20,000 practitioners to provide details of any buildings they might suspect may have used an Aluminium Composite Product in a non-compliant way,” a statement reads.

    The authority says if it identifies buildings where cladding has been used in a potentially non-compliant manner, it will:

    • Notify the local Municipal Building Surveyor, who will inspect each location and determine if there is a risk to occupants and notify them of the results of that inspection and any further actions that might be required; and notify the VBA of the results of the inspection
    • Notify the relevant fire service; and
    • Notify the general public by posting the details on the VBA website.

    Once this work is concluded, the VBA will then consider further action which may include disciplinary action or prosecution in appropriate cases.

     

     

    Clarification:

    An earlier sponsored/advertiser article which appeared temporarily on this website stated:

    “Thankfully no one was hurt in the blaze, but what concerns us most is that, in a bid to save on production costs, architects and project managers across Australia, are continuing to use these untested and often sub-standard, aluminium composite panel materials.”

    In the MFB report there is no suggestion that the architect or project manager of the Lacrosse Building were responsible for the installation of the substitute wall panelling.

    Architecture & Design apologises in the event of any mistaken associations made due to the wording in the article.

     

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