London fire: could it happen here?

Published: 15 June 2017

The tragic apartment fire in London yesterday has left many asking the question: Could it happen here?

As reports emerge that external cladding is the reason the fire spread so quickly (taking just 10 minutes to travel to the top of the building) it is obvious that the problem of dodgy building products is an urgent one that needs to be addressed.

Master Builders deputy CEO Paul Bidwell said the use of non-conforming products left people vulnerable to all sorts of ticking time bombs.

A prime example of this was the Infinity electrical cable situation, where after four years there is still 20,000 metres of dangerous cable in hundreds of homes across Queensland and even more nationally.

“Our members try their hardest to avoid these kinds of products, but when you have retailers and importers selling them it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between a legitimate product and one that shouldn’t be touched,” Mr Bidwell said.

“The state government has recently proposed action to crack down on these dodgy building products. 

“But I would caution that we still have concerns about how it will work. These concerns will form part of our submission to the state government.”

Master Builders deputy CEO Paul Bidwell said the Queensland Building Plan’s new laws to deal with non-conforming building products were a first step towards dealing with the problem.

“Everyone in the supply chain – from the manufacturer, importer, supplier and building designer – not just the builder or contractor, will now have responsibilities to ensure building products are safe and fit for purpose,” Mr Bidwell said.

“This will require information to be provided about the product’s suitability and how it is to be used.”

Mr Bidwell said although it was proposed that all parties in the supply chain would now be responsible, it was not clear how the regulator (Queensland Building and Construction Commission) would determine who was accountable in the event of a building product failure.

There would be very significant fines for non-compliance – the maximum penalty under the new regime is more than $120,000. This is much more than exists in the QBCC legislation at present. 

In addition, the QBCC would have extended powers to go where these products are sold to investigate and test samples, and the Minister would have the power to recall non-conforming building products.

Master Builders has been calling for five years for the other parties in the supply chain to take responsibility for non-conforming products. However, Mr Bidwell said it was not yet clear how this would work, particularly where builders are required to provide information after a building had already been constructed.

Mr Bidwell said he was also concerned that the duplication of some requirements in the Work Health & Safety and Electrical Safety acts would create an unnecessary burden on building contractors.