In the wake of London apartment building fire, many questions are being asked about building control.

The fire also sparked a review of buildings and including those in Australia. The fact that something like London fire and the Lacrosse building fire could happen seems unbelievable but on closer review it is all but inevitable. We may just have grabbed the tiger by the tail.

Thanks to our corrupt and inept Building Commission, which started as the Building Control Commission, then dropped control from its title - and seemingly from its duties - our building control remains firmly frozen in the last century.

What do you get when you allow profit to rule unchecked and with impunity? This is what I had to say in a report about a completed and occupied multi-storey apartment, building in SE suburbs of Melbourne:

“This building is poorly built and unfinished with shoddy workmanship readily on display, however closer inspection revealed substantial non-compliance with approved drawings and non-conformance with design details. My brief is to arrive at likely cost of rectification of defects and completion in accordance with the design. The cost estimate is included with this report. As a matter of duty of care I have to advise that there is likely prospect that this building is unsafe for occupation and immediate reassessment of essential services and fire protection elements is highly recommended.”

The report offered up a litany of defects and issues that needed addressing. Among them:

  • missing aluminium finish to the front façade and around window shading frames
  • missing timber finish to the rear elevation
  • the timber finish on the front elevation was smaller than it was designed for
  • missing or ill-fitting aluminium screens over windows
  • no evidence of sprinkler protection to the windows as required by fire engineering
  • sound attenuation screens missing from external faces of windows
  • housing for fire hydrants and gas meters was not constructed as required by fire protection services
  • fire doors were undersized and not fitted with smoke seals as required
  • fire protection collars around services and outlets in floors and walls were not fitted as specified
  • ground floor escape doors swing against escape route traffic and one could not be fully opened
  • shower bases were built on top of the slab floor instead of set into it
  • shower screens leaked
  • power points were too close to basins and sinks
  • sinks and kitchen joinery were not as per the plan
  • laundry doors were too small and a nib not shown on the plan was creating issues
  • the tiles around the balcony had defective sealing, and grout was already calcifying
  • windows did not slide properly

This building exhibits a lack of skill and care in construction, a lack of project and quality control, poor workmanship, defective, incomplete, non complying and non conforming work.

Given the extensive non-conformance with the approved drawings there must be serious concerns about safety compliance. In my opinion, this building is unsafe for occupation.

The work required to complete and bring this building into conformance is extensive and will be extremely costly due to having to carry out major works whilst building is occupied.

Recommendations for this building include an urgent review of all safety elements, particularly fire protection elements.

Profit rules, and developers can often profit from omission, from substitution, from deviating from approved drawings, from not spending on supervision and control during construction. Developers get to be obscenely rich.

What do we get? Poorly built housing stock, with reduced longevity. Occupants' lives are at risk. If found guilty of transgressions, developers will buy their freedom, lawyers will be made obscenely rich, and the public will remain at risk.

  • Branko good article. Unfortunately this only falls on deaf ears yet again. NO ONE CARES unless lives are lost and even then we have highly paid spin-doctors circling the wagons to cover-up and pay-off. Minister Wynne along with Premier Danial Andrews have concocted yet another outcome to the cladding issue by appointing Thwaites and Baillieu to conduct a sham inquiry into this. We have Prue Digby sacked(oh sorry she left because they dont respect her because she is a woman) replaced by a cunning Murray Smith with absolutely no building experience except his bank account and EGO. We have a very good spin doctor Jane who spits acid and other.
    We have all been conned. The Thwaites/Baillieu inquiry will not hold the Builders and Developers to account. It will not protect the Consumers that the Government spin-doctor Jane keeps saying it does. The HIA and MBA are the "Industry advisors" who are to be consulted over this. Its a no brainer they will be acting in their interest to protect the status quo which affords them an obscene earn through sham policies. Then again we can always have another inquiry into this inquiry. The John and Ted JUNKET.
    Self regulation has failed. Minister Wynne has failed. Premier Andrews has Failed. Unions are already expressing their loss of confidence in the regulators and the Government handling of such an important industry and yet none of this is important.
    I ran into a "jeanie" the other day and asked if I could use my three wishes to get proper reform for the Building Industry in Victoria alone. She offered me a stairway to heaven as this was more achievable. Wake up Victoria to the CORRUPTION of the bureaucracy we call Government. Lets hope we never see another Grenfell Tower and god help us if it happens in Melbourne.

  • This is all very concerning. ALL participants in the building product chain have a full duty of care to protect occupants and the public. Everyone needs to do their bit – that includes regulators but is not limited to them. No-one can say 'not my problem'. It is too important.

  • Is it possible to take the politics and angst out of the discussion.
    The fact is there has always been buildings of poor quality but that are structurally adequate but meet minimum requirements to be habitable. There has also, always been buildings of good or very good quality.
    The important thing to understand is that the regulatory system is designed to deliver buildings that are "fit to occupy". A building that is fit to occupy is not required to be well finished or meet any aesthetic standard.
    So where did this go wrong? A couple of facts –
    1. The last profession that was dedicated to accurate and quality construction on building sites every day or every other day was called the "Clerk of Works". Wikipedia describes them as follows –
    The clerk of works is a very isolated profession on site. He/she is the person that must ensure quality of both materials and workmanship and, to this end, must be absolutely impartial and independent in decisions and judgments. He/she cannot normally, by virtue of the quality role, be employed by the contractor – only the client, normally by the architect on behalf of the client. His/her role is not to judge, but simply to report all occurrences that are relevant to the role. Clerks of Works are either on site all the time or make regular visits. They must be vigilant in their inspections of a large range of technical aspects of the work. This involves:
    making sure that work is carried out to the client's standards, specification, correct materials, workmanship and schedule
    becoming familiar with all the relevant drawings and written instructions, checking them and using them as a reference when inspecting work making visual inspections taking measurements and samples on site to make sure that the work and the materials meet the specifications and quality standards being familiar with legal requirements and checking that the work complies with them.
    having a working knowledge of health and safety legislation and bringing any shortfalls observed to the attention of the resident engineer. advising the contractor about certain aspects of the work, particularly when something has gone wrong, but this advice should not be interpreted as an instruction.

    The fact is the clerk of works died last century for most of the Australian Construction Industry. The Design and construct process did not replace them. Our society seems to be deluded into thinking that the same quality of outcomes can be achieved by lumping the responsibility of the clerk of works onto Councils building inspector/ building surveyor / private certifier. Any reasonable enquiry will show that an inspector at the site once a month cannot produce the same outcome as an inspector on site every day or every other day. The NSW Government is about to introduce a regime of greater mandatory inspections related to fire safety. This will edge the certifier in NSW a few steps closer to the Clerk of Works role but only marginally so. The increased red tape involved in the way the regulations are written may only produce a marginal cost / benefit. The quality our society expects can only be achieved by training, licensing and on the ground vigilance and accountability. The regulatory system is about minimum standards to achieve fitness to occupy. Is the gap becoming clear now. Blaming one party out of existence is not going to solve the problem.

    2. In NSW you don't need a license to build over 4 storey's and no license for commercial work at all (that's hospitals and schools, high rise). There is no enforceable license required to install many of the critical fire safety equipment. The same goes for design. Therefore accountabilities are poor. Council inspectors / Building Surveyors / Private Certifiers have been asking this be corrected for a decade. Yet very few articles are written in the media with any effort to understand the problems complexity and a way forward to resolve it or at least make significant improvement.

    This is a significant and complex issue. Viewing it from one of its many faces will not solve it and there is no quick fix. What is required is a plan and investment in the design and construction industry both structurally and through regulations, licensing and training. Are we up for it, or is it easier to continue with the politics and angst.

  • Some very good points Rod, however, I would question whether we want our buildings to be merely fit for occupation and we leave the build to a third world standard. The answer is, no we don't. That's why we have Australian Standards and implied warranties in the building contracts. The problem is that nothing is enforced, breaches occur with impunity and there is no fear. There are penalties for infringements of DBCA1995 but CAV is not enforcing and fining builders. Why is this so? Why do we have laws that are not enforced?The answer is Politics. The consumers won't put up funds for re election of politicians, builders, developers and their associations will.
    Politicians follow the money.
    There is your answer. So as much as we all would like to leave politics and angst out of it, it's not possible.