The flammable cladding issue has been front of mind in the time that has followed the Grenfell Tower tragedy as well as the Lacrosse tower fire in Melbourne. A number of significant legislative changes are in the works, which will protect both buildings and their occupants.

The National Construction Code is due to be changed in September, with COVID forcing delays from the usual deadline of May 1. It is expected a number of changes will be made for cladding regulations. The NCC is updated every three years.

Fire containment company Trafalgar Fire’s Owner John Rakic says the changes forthcoming within the construction code will create major upheaval for the betterment of the industry.

“These are probably the most significant changes to passive fire protection in the last 50 years and will have a monumental and positive impact. Many systems being sold and installed were fire tested over 30 years ago, and do not provide the requisite protection that modern buildings deserve,” he says.

“It is critical that developers, builders and trades are aware and prepared. Incredibly, prior to the new standards, any new class 2 buildings, such as high-rise apartment buildings, could use test reports from the 1950s for passive fire protection compliance. There was no motivation for manufacturers to retest systems to more onerous standards, which stopped product innovation.”

Passive fire protection slows the spread of fire through sectioning off buildings into fire zones using fire-rated walls, shafts, floors, ceilings, doors and service penetrations including cabling and plumbing. It also gives fire fighters the ability to get into a building and contain fire.

Larger Tier One builders have been specifying and using systems with the latest fire test requirements for some time. Rakic says Trafalgar Fire has begun preparing for the changes.

“We have spent over $3 million getting ready for these changes. 100 percent of our systems have gone through rigorous new fire testing to meet or exceed current Australian standards. We had to be ready now as buildings being built under NCC2019 effectively require this if they do not finish before September 1, 2022.”

Come September, manufacturers will be required to fire test to new Australian standards. Previously, there was a grandfathering clause which allowed old fire test reports and data to be used for new buildings, but this will now stop on 1 September. 

“Many builders used to hand-ball compliance to the various trades, which is ineffective because passive fire protection needs to be looked at as a whole system. It was impractical for certifiers or building surveyors to check every penetration on site and they were having to accept trade specific certification for compliance. This led to some poor and non-compliant installations being approved. The builders just didn’t want to know as their contracts would put the certification onus on the trades,” Rakic explains.

“Down the track, this led to serious problems that cost strata bodies and building owners a lot of money to fix. Some builders would avoid liability by winding up their company, leaving the building owners or strata bodies with big bills. Of course, it is everyday Australians that end up paying. Something had to change.”

Rakic believes increased focus on passive fire protection through mandated inspections, legislative change, and dedicated building commissioners will improve the built environment for Australians.

“There is now more impetus for buildings to be designed in smarter and safer ways and we are finding that people are seeking versatile and compliant solutions with our local Australia’s fire regulations. Ultimately it will lead to better and safer buildings. Hopefully it will prevent avoidable tragedies.”