Non-compliant banned cladding materials should be removed and replaced with compliant cladding in Melbourne buildings to provide reassurance to residents, says British engineer and global building regulation and fire safety expert, Dame Judith Hackitt DBE.
Hackitt, who is currently visiting Australia as a guest of RMIT’s School of Property, Construction and Project Management, advises remediation for the banned cladding, which would help build public confidence in the building’s safety.
Observing that the global building and construction industry must focus on constructing and maintaining buildings that were safe for people to live in, she says construction safety was is too focused on the workforce, and not enough on those who use the buildings. Emphasising the need to address the problem in existing buildings, Hackitt says that Victoria has clear guidelines on the materials that can or cannot be used; therefore, replacement of existing non-compliant material should be prioritised. However, it is still not clear who will pay for the remediation.
Hackitt’s comments are significant, given the recent blaze at Neo 200, which had cladding similar to that used on London's Grenfell Tower, almost a year after the Victorian Government banned flammable cladding on new buildings.
Despite the serious fire risk, banned cladding continues to remain on about 750-1400 buildings in Victoria, including several hospitals.
Hackitt led an independent review commissioned by the British Government into the regulatory system for high rise buildings following the devastating 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people. She has noticed similarities in the problems with the Australian and UK regulatory systems.
She said the Australian system appears to drive ‘box ticking’ with regulatory requirements in the National Construction Code; instead, the focus should be on whether the building is fit for purpose.
Following this review, the British Government announced their intention to implement all 53 recommendations made by the highly decorated engineer, which included:
- The establishment of a Joint Competent Authority comprising the Health and Safety Executive, Local Authority Building Control, Fire and Rescue Authorities;
- The introduction of a safety case approach and permissioning regime, which will only allow buildings that are demonstrated to be safe to be constructed and occupied;
- Serious penalties for those who fail to comply before an incident or tragedy occurs;
- Clearer responsibilities to manage ongoing safety during occupation, including a nominated building safety manager as a day-to-day contact for residents;
- Stronger testing, labelling and traceability of construction materials;
- Providing residents greater access to and transparency of safety information from owners;
- Analysis and follow up of dangerous occurrences through confidential reporting and whistleblowing.