Covering up a potential Fire Hazard

12 November 2018
By Jeff Anderson

In recent years, building cladding has become almost the default design element of architects and those involved in new construction and refurbishment of existing buildings, due to its ability to transform what may otherwise be a plain building, or old building into something much more contemporary and aesthetically pleasing.

But as evidenced by high-profile fires in the last three years at Grenfell Tower (London), Lacrosse Docklands(Melbourne) and the Torch Tower (Dubai), non-compliant fire panels – the type which have been used extensively in Australia and around the world – represent a major fire hazard which can lead to multiple deaths when a fire does start within the building.

The Ramifications of Choosing Non-compliant pannelling.

Like all aspects of building, solutions are classified as Deemed-to-Satisfy when they meet specific criteria and are utilised in certain situations only. In the case of panelling, the ABCB states that the elements used need to avoid the spread of fire in a building and “this requirement can be met, in part, under a Deemed-to-satisfy solution for buildings of Type A or Type B construction by non-combustible external walls (C1.9). A non-combustible external wall inhibits fire spread via the external wall of the building, thereby contributing to a building’s compliance with Performance Requirement CP2”
Illustration showing Defective Cladding - Cladding Replacement - Remedial Building Services

Sadly, in the case of the fires in London, Melbourne and Dubai, the panels used on the building were non-compliant and fed the fire as opposed to helping limit its spread.
When you consider the number of buildings around Australia with similar external wall cladding, the ramifications could be severe.

For all intents and purposes, these panels look like any other, yet are comprised of an aluminium veneer usually 1mm on both sides with an internal core made of untreated polyethylene foam. As this foam is oil derived compound, these panels serve as a fuel for a fire within the building, assisting the rapid vertical spread of the fires as flames travel both up the building and downwards via ignited foam dripping onto surfaces below.

Implications of Non-compliance

Recognising how hard it is to contain fires in buildings with these panels and thus the risk they post to the lives of occupants, in May 2018, the Department of Fair Trading announced that non-compliant building cladding will be classified as a building defect.

However, due to ongoing investigations, in August 2018, the NSW Department of Fair Trading banned the use of aluminium composite panels with a core of more than 30 per cent polyethylene in residential buildings greater than two storeys and commercial buildings including hospitals, shopping centres and office complexes taller than three storeys.

So serious do the Department see the risk, that they have identified 400 buildings with dangerous cladding installed which need to have the panels removed and compliant ones installed in their place. But there could be more.

Correcting the Issue

Ultimately, Building Managers and Strata Committees of buildings with non-compliant cladding are required to take the necessary steps to remove the dangerous product and have the correct alternative installed in its place. Where the building is less than 6 years old, the builder who installed the product is legally responsible. In buildings older than 6 years, the debate is currently underway as to who is responsible and how the financial burden can be minimised for individuals as much as possible.

With our extensive experience in building rectification and our ongoing focus on fire protection, Remedial Building Services are working with fire engineers to help Building Consultants, builders and Strata Corporations to identify all risks and recommend appropriate solutions
This includes but is not limited to:

  • Fire safety audits
  • Replacement of non-compliant cladding with alternative cladding systems which meet AS1530.1 and 1530.4
  • Devising the scope of works and implementing the Fire upgrade solution
  • Council Order rectifications
  • Working with fire engineers as required

If you have concerns regarding your building and what could be a non-compliant fire panelling, it is best to be proactive, saving you time and pain and letter from the council regarding your building. Not only will you be working to protect the lives of all building occupants, but you will be taking steps to ensure that your insurance premiums stay in place without significant cost. Ask us how we can help with your cladding issues now.