Industry and government working together on fire safety

Dozens of government agencies and all major property companies are working together to improve fire safety standards and deal with non-conforming building products (NCBPs) says the Property Council of Australia.

“Australians can be confident that property companies and regulators are taking a safety-first approach to fire safety standards”, said Ken Morrison, Chief Executive of the Property Council of Australia.

“We are seeing concerted and considered action from the Building Ministers Forum, the Senior Officers’ Group on NCBPs, the Australian Building Codes Board, Standards Australia, as well as state governments and their relevant fire and consumer protection agencies. As well, the Senate has been inquiring into NCBPs since 2015 and is expected to report this week.

“Last Month, the Australian Building Codes Board released an out-of-cycle amendment for the National Construction Code and this week the Senate is reporting on its own inquiry into NCBP. The amendment includes a new Verification Method for external wall assemblies, increased stringency for sprinkler protection of balconies, clarifying language in the Code for external wall claddings and revision of the National Construction Code’s evidence of suitability provisions.

“Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia are undertaking reviews of large buildings. The Queensland Government has passed legislation addressing NCBPs last month and the NSW Government has established an inter-agency Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce.  We support these approaches.”

Mr Morrison said Australia has fire safety standards that are among the strongest in the world.

“Certainly, the Grenfell building was a disaster waiting to happen with multiple failures – flammable cladding, no sprinkler systems, single fire stairs and no building alarm.  The public can have confidence that we do not build buildings like this in Australia.”

Mr Morrison said public safety is the priority for the industry as well as regulators.

“Above all else, public safety is our major priority. The most important thing for regulators and the industry is to identify potential public safety risks and resolve them as a matter of priority.

“Many industry participants aren’t just reviewing the buildings they own, they are also reviewing the buildings they played a role in constructing up to a decade ago.

“Encouragingly, members are reporting very few instances of genuine safety risk – and are working through less critical issues that have become apparent during the review process.

“This is not easy work – but there is enormous goodwill – and a willingness to ensure that Australia’s world-renowned fire safety record is preserved.”

Mr Morrison said the issue of non-compliant building products had increased the industry’s focus on its supply chain.

“The earlier in the supply chain NCBP issues can be identified (e.g. at the time the product is manufactured, distributed or procured) the more effective the intervention will be.

“We know that building certifiers/surveyors do not have the capacity to check every product, nor are building regulators currently able to investigate every case of suspected NCBPs, nor can they easily identify where a proven NCBP may be (e.g. the marketplace, building sites or completed buildings).

“The naked eye can’t tell how fire retardant a product or adhesive might be. We must work on our supply chain. We have to ensure there is more responsibility upstream.

“The current regulatory framework places a high burden on the end of the product supply chain for identifying NCBPs (builder, installer and building certifier/surveyor) and after a building product has already been paid for and/or installed.”

Mr Morrison said the industry supported tougher standards for the certification of building product – as well as a national register of compliant product.

“Currently there is a gap between national standards and state government enforcement. This is a gap that the current issue around cladding has identified as a missing link and we must address it”.

For more information call Paul Ritchie on 0447 950 011.