BRINGING SPECIFIERS UP TO CODE ON FIRE PROTECTION – Flammable cladding in the Victorian high-rise market

Unions and fire prevention experts warn of the dangers in using cheap building materials in high-rises.
A number of new high-rises have been installed with flammable cladding, prompting an audit of buildings across Victoria and new investigations into building professionals. The issue came to light after a blaze at the Lacrosse block in Melbourne’s Docklands, where fire spread rapidly due to flammable cladding, which had been imported from China, that had not been tested to Australian standards.

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) says the construction industry has an “inconsistent understanding” of how aluminium composite panels should be applied, which has lead to an audit of 170 Melbourne buildings with findings indicating 51% were using cladding that was not to code.

Victorian Building Authority (VBA) chief executive, Prue Digby, said “We have a problem with what the people who are designing and constructing and signing off buildings know and understand about compliance. And that is the issue that has to be fixed.”
The authority is planning to educate industry professionals to reduce confusion around materials and is supporting the Victorian Government’s bid for mandatory product certification of cladding and other sensitive building materials.

Specifying and installing inferior products is a common act across many Australian construction projects especially as the number of imported products reaching our shores increase. Fire Protection Association CEO Scott Williams said it could be impossible to tell the difference using the naked eye. He said it was a real problem for building surveyors who are often only involved at the end of the process.

Educating construction professionals on the importance of fire protection is crucial when it comes to developing safe and sound buildings across Australia. Sometimes, unfortunately it takes problems arising before change is taken seriously. Attitudes are beginning to change but product suppliers and manufacturers can help in enlightening construction professionals of best practice procedures. Designers and builders are very much generalists when it comes to which products and services are the best fit for a project, product suppliers and manufacturers are the experts and it is important to share that technical knowledge and experience with clients.

We recommend taking on a problem solving and consultative approach in your meetings with designers and builders. This can include:

  • Discussing what applications are suited best to different types of projects.
  • Talking about problems that have arisen in the past and the best practice approach to overcoming them.
  • Referring to testing that has been done on your products and how that compares with Australian building standards and codes.
  • Reviewing a past project reference and what design procedures and product choices were made and why they were the best options for your clients.
  • Risks in using cheaper products.