Cladding is a term which describes the material used to cover the external wall or roof of a building. Common materials used for cladding include weatherboard, lightweight panels (such as aluminium composite panels) polystyrene products and metal sheeting.
External cladding material, including aluminium composite panels, is safe if it is installed in accordance with the National Construction Code (NCC), relevant technical standards and local laws.
Responding to the Grenfell Fire
On 16 June 2017, immediately following the Grenfell fire in London, the NSW Government developed and began implementing a response to the disaster.
An inter-agency Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce (the Taskforce) was established.
The Taskforce is working on a number of priorities to further strengthen the protections in place for fire safety in identified buildings.
Data audit and fire safety inspections
A data audit conducted by the NSW DAC is identifying the buildings that are most likely to contain aluminium and other types of cladding. The audit examined records of 178,000 buildings in NSW and slightly more than 1,000 buildings have been identified as potentially having aluminium and other types of cladding. This audit work is ongoing.
Owners and managers of the identified buildings will receive a letter alerting them to the issues related to cladding, and recommending that they take immediate action to check documentation and approvals of the building and if needed commission a fire safety assessment of the building by a fire protection expert.
Annual fire safety declaration
The Taskforce is working to make it mandatory for buildings to declare to the state and local governments, including FRNSW if their building has cladding on it.
FRNSW Pre-Incident Plans and Home Fire Safety Checks
Once buildings have been identified through the Taskforce’s data audit, FRNSW will conduct Pre-Incident Plans at these sites along with Home Fire Safety Checks of residences. At the same time, firefighters will also gather information about the buildings to assist with risk assessments and operational preparedness. Along with checking installed fire safety equipment (such as fire hydrants, hoses and emergency exits), a key part of FRNSW’s role will be assisting with informing and reassuring residents and supporting them to be home fire safe (checking they have at least one working smoke alarm and providing relevant fire safety information). Residents who are not home during the checks will receive high-rise specific information in their mailbox.
Strengthening fire safety legislation
A recently enacted package of reforms strengthens fire safety rules for new and existing buildings will commence on 1 October 2017 to allow enough time for people to comply with the new laws.
The Government will introduce amendments to the EP&A Act to improve the building regulation system and strengthen development compliance requirements.
The new fire safety regulation targets the building design, approval, construction and fire safety system maintenance stages. These changes include:
Design and approval
- Mandatory involvement of ’competent fire safety practitioners’
- Mandatory submission of endorsed plans and specifications for complex fire safety systems before installation
- New requirements for the documenting, endorsing and checking of non-standard fire safety designs
- Limited exceptions from compliance with technical standards for minor safety system works
- New critical stage inspections targeting apartments and other residential buildings
- New FRNSW inspection powers for multi-unit residential buildings
Maintenance of fire safety measures
- Assessment of the ongoing performance of essential fire safety measures must be undertaken by ‘competent fire safety practitioners’. DFSI is developing a framework for industry accreditation of these practitioners.
Reforming the building certification system
The Government has outlined a significant reform agenda on building regulation to address the issues raised by the Building Professionals Act Review.
In addition to the amendments to the EP&A Act outlined above, the Government has already taken action on or is fast tracking many of the other priority reforms on the building certification system. These include:
- reforming certifier regulation by re-writing the Building Professionals Act 2005.
- fast tracking legislation administered by the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation to require council and private certifiers to provide data about the work they certify.
- integrating building and certifier licensing and accreditation functions under the one organisation — the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation.
- fast tracking other building and certification reforms.
Stopping the use of non-compliant building products
The NSW Government will crack down on unsafe building products by introducing legislation that prevents people in the building supply chain from importing, supplying, selling or using building products that are unsafe.
Building developers and owners will be notified if their building is identified in the data audit. Residents seeking further information should contact their real estate agent, landlord, building owner or strata manager.
A number of local councils are also taking action to respond to fire safety risks associated with external wall cladding. Residents can find out if their local council has taken action by contacting their council directly. For contact information, visit the ‘Find my council’ page on the Office of Local Government website.
If owners and occupants of buildings are concerned about fire safety in their building, they should take action without delay. No-one should wait to be contacted by the State Government or their local council if they have concerns about their building.
If you have any questions in relation to the above, please contact our team of Lawyers at The Quinn Group on (02) 9223 9166 or submit an online enquiry form today.