Australia’s concrete and masonry industry has called for more action to ensure that non-combustible materials are not installed on multi-storey buildings.

Following the recent emergency at the Neo 200 tower in Melbourne, Cement Concrete & Aggregates Australia (CCAA), Think Brick Australia, and Concrete Masonry Association of Australia (CMAA) have called on the Government to review the National Construction Code (NCC) and restrict the use of non-combustible cladding in high-rise buildings throughout the country.

Ken Slattery, Chief Executive Officer of CCAA, says a lack of action on flammable materials is concerning.

“Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, a Senate inquiry raised serious concerns about the widespread use of non-compliant combustible cladding, and yet very little appears to have been done to make high-rise buildings safer in the event of a fire,” Slattery said.

In a statement, the group called for action on two fronts.

First, they are seeking a ban on the use of all flammable materials in high-rise construction throughout Australia.

As well, they are calling for an urgent review of proposed amendments to deemed-to-satisfy (DTS) provisions within the 2019 update of the NCC which they fear could jeopardise fire safety in buildings of less than eight storeys or 25 meters in effective height.

In their statement, the groups did not specify which amendments they were referring to.

When asked about this, CCAA indicated that the group, ‘have a general concern with deemed-to-satisfy provisions for buildings with 3-8 storeys’.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the groups are referring primarily to proposed changes which if enacted will afford less onerous fire safety requirements for lower rise buildings where these buildings have sprinkler systems installed.

Under proposed amendments to the NCC in 2019, new DTS provisions will be introduced which will afford a range of concessions to fire safety requirements for Class 2 and Class 3 buildings (apartments and commercial accommodation buildings) of up to 25 meters where sprinkler systems are in place.

These include less onerous requirements in respect of fire resistance of non-loadbearing walls around fire isolated stairs, less onerous requirements for maximum travel distances to and between exits and allowing external or ‘dry’ hydrant risers instead of ‘wet’ risers.

The changes have been pushed by fire protection industry groups such as Fire Protection Association of Australia (FPAA), who argue that the concessions would facilitate a means through which sprinkler protection could be provided in lower rise buildings without adding to the building’s overall cost of construction.

The concessions, FPAA says, are able to be granted on account of the additional fire safety provided by the sprinklers.

The three concrete and masonry groups, however, are concerned that the changes could weaken fire safety standards.

They are calling on the Federal Government to review the changes before the new NCC comes into effect.

More broadly, the groups say the best way to protect safety is to prevent combustible materials from being used.

On this score, Elizabeth McIntyre, Group Chief Executive of Think Brick Australia and CMAA, says concrete and masonry products perform best.

“As well as being non-combustible, concrete and masonry products don’t release toxic fumes during a fire, and because of their relatively slow rate of heat transfer, they act as a heat shield to protect building occupants,” McIntyre said.

“The simple fact is that concrete and masonry don’t burn. No other materials are as safe or reliable as concrete and masonry in the event of a fire.”