Shortly after the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in June 2017, a number of jurisdictions in Australia began the process of formulating regulatory responses to the fire safety risks posed by external wall cladding that includes making checks for combustible cladding on buildings compulsory.
Since then a number of bodies have been formed and regulations to tackle non-conforming building products introduced.
The Victorian Cladding Taskforce interim report, which outlines the extent of combustible cladding on buildings and makes significant recommendations to address the issue, considers all buildings identified by the Taskforce safe to occupy provided certain safety measures are met while rectification works are carried out, such as sprinklers or alarms.
More recently in NSW, the Department of Planning and Environment released a draft regulation that proposes that owners of buildings with combustible external wall cladding be required to register the building with state government. Under the regulation, these building owners will be required to undertake a fire safety assessment within set deadlines.
Once finalised, the regulation will require owners of certain buildings with combustible cladding to provide information in a two-stage process; a registration stage whereby owners will need to register the building details with the government within three months of the regulation commencing, and a statement stage where the owner will need to submit a statement about the cladding material used, the level of fire risk the cladding presents, and what actions (if any) might be necessary to address those risks.
A properly qualified person will need to conduct the inspection and a deadline will apply for the submission of the statement.
The Queensland approach was to create the Non-Conforming Building Products Audit Taskforce, which largely led to the government addressing concerns with all of their own buildings. Now it is the turn of the general public.
The new regulation: the Building and Other Legislation (Cladding) Amendment Regulation 2018 when it commences on 1 October 2018, states that if a building is any of class 2 to 9 (which covers basically everything residential and commercial other than houses); and had a building development approval issued after 1 January 1994 but before 1 October 2018 to build the building or alter the cladding; and is of Type A or Type B construction (essentially buildings of three storeys or higher) then the building will be affected by the new regulation.
As with NSW, if this applies to your building then you will need to register and complete an online checklist via the QBCC that will run you through whether the building is likely to be one of those with non-conforming cladding. Every building will have until 29 March 2019 to complete this.
If there is no issue, then all is well and the certification should be kept on file. If not, then stage two dictates the appointment of a building industry professional to determine whether the cladding on the building is non-conforming or not.
If the cladding on the building is non-conforming then you can skip the completion of the report, notify the QBCC and engage a qualified fire engineer to complete a fire risk assessment about the safety of the building. That assessment will determine whether the scheme as it is will essentially remain safe or whether rectification works are necessary.
The key message here is not to panic. Just because cladding is non-conforming it does not necessarily mean that it needs to be removed. There are a number of other fire safety mechanisms that may cover any risk appropriately.
If it hasn’t been done already, now is the time to ensure that all fire safety features are compliant and well maintained.
The Australian Standard AS1851-2005 – Maintenance of fire protection systems and equipment – recommends that fire protection systems are regularly inspected to help keep them in working order so that they can perform when required. Recent updates to AS1851 introduced the requirement for ‘baseline data’ to be provided for any fire protection systems and equipment installed. This provides a benchmark performance level for such equipment and systems that subsequent periodic servicing activities results can be compared. Requirements relating to passive fire protection have also been substantially revised.
In addition to the equipment, all employees must be trained in fire safety and understand the appointed evacuation strategy.
Are evacuation routes clearly marked? Are evacuation diagrams correctly placed and orientated? Are the exits signs and emergency lighting undamaged and maintained? Have general evacuation and first response instructions been given? Has an evacuation practice been conducted?
As resident managers you should be concerned about fire safety in your building and you should act without delay. You should not wait for the new laws to be finalised if you have concerns. If a fire occurs, working fire protection systems can mean the difference between a minor fire and a devastating blaze.