It was a great thing that there was no loss of life suffered in the fire which occurred at the Lacrosse building in the Docklands area of Victoria in late 2014.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade believed the non-compliant use of the external cladding material used in the construction of the building was what greatly increased or exacerbated the spread of the fire.
It should be noted that the use of such material in the construction of a building does not necessarily result in the building being unsafe to be occupied, nor is the use of such material in a building illegal per se. As the VBA said in their recent External Wall Cladding Audit Report, in respect of safety, there are other safety measures placed in buildings which increase the level of safety say for example when there is non compliant cladding.
The use of non-compliant cladding raised peoples’ concerns as to how much such cladding was used in high-rise buildings in Victoria. Note that such issues can potentially arise in other states of Australia. It was these widespread concerns which recently prompted the VBA to conduct the cladding audit.
When it is said in this context that the cladding was non-compliant, we are saying that the cladding was not in accordance with the Building Code of Australia standards. It is with these standards as the ‘measuring stick’ which informed the audit.
The VBA has said that there was a relatively high level of non-compliance identified in the audit. However, in only one other instance were there significant safety issues identified due to these non-compliance issues. The VBA did importantly say that the national BCA standards for external wall cladding are poorly understood and applied inconsistently in practice. Conversely, remedial works where there is non-compliance are planned to be conducted after an assessment of what needs to be done.
Further developments as a result of the audit are possible and/or are in process as a result of further work and assessment. The issues arising out of the fire are slowly but surely being put on the national agenda, as they should be, given that Victoria is obviously not the only state in Australia with high rise buildings. In addition, regulations have been, or are being, amended in respect of new high rise buildings in Victoria so that sprinkler protection will now have to extend to also include covered balconies.
One point worth mentioning is that it seems some in the industry are trying to pass blame for the situation to building surveyors, partly at least due to the ‘oversight’ position building surveyors have when buildings are being constructed and or when permits are being issued. But as the VBA’s wall cladding audit said, no single category of building industry professional is at all times responsible for non-compliant use of wall cladding. Having said that, all building industry professionals should understand as best they can how to ensure compliance with the Building Code of Australia.
In respect of municipal building surveyors, they may well have a role moving forward in respect of further audits working in conjunction with the VBA in respect of possible further instances of non compliance.
Part of what may occur in the ‘wash-up’ of the circumstances is that if there are building industry practitioners who have been involved in multiple instances of relevant non-compliance, such instances may be further investigated with a possible result being disciplinary action for those practitioners in due course.
Further audits and possible further regulatory reform will now be conducted by the VBA, perhaps indicating the importance of the issues that it is believed, and are being examined. Watch this space for further developments, hopefully shortly.