Every state and territory in Australia should conduct an urgent audit of the use of potentially dangerous aluminium cladding products, the nation’s biggest union says.
Following revelations in April that combustible cladding was behind a fire that tore through a 21-storey apartment complex at Docklands in November last year, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has written to every State Premier and Chief Minister requesting an urgent audit of the use of the product, which was found to be highly combustible and the cause of a rapid spread of the fire.
CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor said a comprehensive and national audit was the only way of knowing how widespread the use of the product was. He is urging state leaders to compel building surveyors, builders, architects and designers to outline where the use of the product has occurred in their state or territory.
“Because of completely inadequate enforcement of Australian standards on imported building products, these unsafe products have flooded the Australian market, putting lives at risk and hurting Australian builders and manufacturers,” O’Connor said.
“Imported products that supposedly comply with Australian standards, and are often labelled or stamped as such, are clearly falling short when put to the test – a situation highlighted by the Lacrosse Complex fire.”
The union’s call follows the a report from the Victorian Building Authority in May that non-compliant combustible cladding was instrumental in the spread of the Docklands blaze. An unextinguished cigarette left on an apartment balcony was found to be the initial cause of the blaze. The fire spread after flammable materials ignited and ripped vertically up the wall after the cladding caught fire.
A Metropolitan Fire Brigade report found that the cladding material did not prevent the spread of fire as required by the Building Code of Australia.
In response, the Victoria Building Authority launched an investigation into 170 buildings in inner Melbourne to see whether or not the dangerous cladding has been used in other buildings.
In a statement, O’Connor said many builders were trying to do the right thing but inadequate enforcement of Australian standards were putting workers and the public at risk.
“The enforcement and compliance regime is a complete mess. Multiple state and federal agencies play sometimes conflicting roles when it comes to ensuring imported goods do not cause death, injury or illness to Australian workers and consumers,” he said.
“The ACCC, State and Territory building authorities, offices of Fair Trading, and the Quarantine and Customs Services all have various responsibilities – yet there is no effective enforcement of Australian standards on imported products.
“It’s a spectacular regulatory failure and a disaster waiting to happen.”