Taking a safety-first approach

The fire safety of building products has been back in the public eye again this week, with the ABC’s Four Corners program airing a story on the subject on Monday night.

The debate over aluminium composite panels – or cladding – is an appropriate focus for policy makers, the media and our industry.

The images of the Grenfell fire in London horrified us all. It is natural for the community to want to know that Australia is not at risk of similar disasters occurring here.

The Property Council has been making the point that Grenfell represented multiple failures: flammable cladding, no sprinkler systems, single fire stairs and no building alarm. Australia simply does not build buildings like that.

However the industry is grappling with the issues surrounding non-conforming building products and what to do about them.

The community should draw confidence from the amount of work that is going into this issue. Regulators and industry are working together and taking a safety-first approach.

The most important thing is to focus on genuine risk to public safety, and that is what is being done.

At an industry level, many property companies are not just reviewing the buildings they own, but also reviewing the buildings they played a role in constructing (in some cases up to 10 years 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.

Government agencies at a federal and state level are also taking steps. In recent weeks, the Australian Building Codes Board has issued an out of cycle amendment for the National Construction Code and later today a Senate inquiry is expected to report on its long running cladding review. We can expect more activity from state and federal governments in coming months and the Property Council will continue to engage closely with them.

Our national regulation review roundtable and committees in each state are working through many of the issues raised by the different levels of government. I thank the members involved for all their efforts.

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.