A ban on use of cladding containing the highly flammable polyethylene on buildings in Australia is unnecessary and largely misses the point in terms of addressing rampant levels of non-compliance with building codes, a leading fire safety industry supplier lobby group says.

Responding to recommendations in the Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Products that the use of aluminum composite cladding be banned from all buildings, Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPA Australia) chief executive officer Scott Williams said the problem of cladding products being used in a non-compliant manner extended beyond an individual product.

In a statement, Williams said the use of aluminium composite panels on high-rise buildings was already disallowed under current rules as it would not meet the requirements of the National Construction Code.

The problem, Williams said, was not that current NCC rules are not strict enough but rather that the rules are not being followed and enforced.

“The problem is wider than a single building product. It comes down to people not complying to Australia’s building codes and standards, and a PE cladding ban does not fix the problem of compliance,” Williams said.

“The use of combustible cladding on high-rise buildings is already banned under the National Construction Code (NCC); we just need people to adhere to that code. Banning the product twice is unnecessary.”

Williams says the most useful action which could be taken to reduce fire safety risk in buildings was to ensure that existing regulations were enforced effectively.

“The single most important action we can take is to ensure competent people who comply with the codes and standards are involved throughout the construction process to ensure the necessary quality and safety outcomes are achieved,” he said.

The latest comments follow the release of an interim report into the use of aluminium composite cladding by the Senate Economics Reference Committee in its Inquiry into Non-Conforming Building Products.

As part of nine recommendations, the Committee recommended a complete ban on the importation, sale or use of aluminium composite panel cladding which contained a polyethylene core.

Other recommendations of the Committee included a national licensing scheme, nationally consistent measure to make all supply chains, having the Commonwealth consider revoking the licence of those who do not build according to Code.

Despite its misgivings about the cladding issue, however, FPAA says it does support a number of the other reforms.

The organisation also supported last month’s announcement that the Building Ministers’ Forum had commissioned University of Western Sydney Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold and Maddocks law firm partner Ms Bronwyn Weir to assess broader non-compliance problems within the building sector in Australia.

  • Thanks Andrew for continuing to highlight the issue and the focus to be broader than just cladding. The problem is without penalties in place for non compliance and the building industries continued reliance on cheapest wins the job tendering processes is that there is nothing stopping the continued use of non compliant products. The only reason for the PE core panel is for a sign and the additional cost for products is minimal for this use. These Pe core panels are still available from bunnings as outdoor screens that people erect in BBQ areas. This is the reason they should banned as selling a flammable product to unsuspecting renovators only increases risk on the community.

  • Andrew and everyone, the central question is: Why are building codes not enforced? This question in fact applies across many industries. Why are regulations not enforced?

  • Good points. A recent article regarding the continued use of non-compliant windows in construction followed the same line; that there was a danger of an apparent and knee-jerk solution to such a well-publicised incident as the London fire and cladding giving the public the feeling that there are no more issues of non-compliance to be concerned about. 'Problem solved!' Also, a message to those involved with supplying other forms of unsafe products to just carry on with what they are doing; putting money ahead of quality and safety. The political side of Government is reluctant to become involved in complex issues so will tend to look for an expedient solution which may have some secondary collateral commercial damage, such as with the signage or small scale facade industry.

    Having said that, the problem is that if the option is available there remains the temptation to push the boundaries of use and I think it better in this case to remove that temptation. I believe the suppliers will be able to come up with a similar compliant product and any extra cost is justified given the alternative risks demonstrated by these fires. The general push for upholding all material compliance standards must continue towards getting broader acceptance by authorities and the construction industry of the longer term benefits of absolute assurance.