What does the recent ban on PE ACP panels in NSW mean for the construction industry?

The NSW Fair Trading’s Commissioner, Rose Webb had recently announced a ban on the use of some types of combustible aluminium composite panels (ACPs) on certain building types.

Fairview believes that the ban is a well-reasoned and good initiative by the NSW Government with a view to ensuring safer buildings and restoring public and industry confidence. Fairview fully supports this ban.

Fairview sheds some light on the subject in an FAQ format below.

What states and territories does this ban apply to?

This ban applies in NSW only and has some differences to the restrictions/ bans imposed by other Australian Regulators, namely Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.

Our technical team have extensively reviewed the notice issued by Fair Trading and share below their summary and views of what this means for the construction industry in NSW and for ACP products in general.

What products does this ban apply to?

The NSW ban applies specifically to Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) with a core comprised of greater than 30% polyethylene (PE) by mass. They are prohibited from use on any external wall, cladding, façade etc., on building types A & B (as defined in the Building Code of Australia).

Are there any exemptions from the ban?

Yes, there are two exemptions from this ban:

  1. The building product is not deemed combustible (non-combustible) when tested to AS1530.1; or
  2. The building product achieves a complete pass tested to the recently introduced AS5113 large scale fire propagation and classification test for external walls of buildings. (Note: The wall and cladding must be constructed and installed in a manner identical to the tested prototype.)

Additionally, testing of the above has to be completed on or after 1 July 2017, and by a NATA approved lab.

So what ACPs does this ban not apply to?

This ban does not apply to products that:

  1. contain 30% or less combustible polyethylene;
  2. are not deemed combustible when tested to AS1530.1 (by NATA approved lab after 1/7/17);
  3. when installed on and become part of an external wall assembly (full wall build-up) and tested, successfully passes all classifications in accordance with AS5113 (by a NATA approved lab after 1/7/17).

If my ACP is not affected by this ban, is it compliant?

No, a product exempted or not affected by this ban is not automatically deemed compliant. These products must still demonstrate compliance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Note: most solid core ACPs contain combustible content in the core. Even if this is less than 30%, it is likely they do not comply for use on type A & B buildings when tested in accordance with the BCA.

When does the ban take effect?

This building product use ban commenced on Wednesday 15 August 2018 and remains in force until it is revoked.

Why was the ban introduced?

Fair Trading has based their decision to implement the building product use ban on the following reasons:

  1. PE core ACPs on type A & B construction pose a high fire safety risk due to combustibility;
  2. In particular, ACPs with more than 30% PE core products pose a safety risk that contravenes the BCA;
  3. The National Code of Construction is not currently sufficient to address these safety risks.

What does this mean for Vitrabond FR and its competitors?

Most reputable ACPs such as Vitrabond FR contain 30% or less PE (combustible content) in the core. This means that these products are not banned; however, it also does not mean that they are compliant. These products still require stringent testing to demonstrate compliance or otherwise in accordance with the BCA.

Vitrabond’s FR core has been independently tested by the CSIRO to confirm the percentage of PE. The CSIRO report confirms that the Vitrabond FR core contains 24.5% PE, and the full report is available on request. Vitrabond FR is therefore not affected by this ban.