The Lacrosse fire in Melbourne and numerous fires internationally, including the Grenfell Tower in the London, have brought into sharp focus concerns with the use of cladding on high rise buildings. Of particular concern is the use of aluminium composite panel (ACPs) with a polyethylene (PE) core.

To address the problem in the Queensland, the government established the Non-Conforming Building Products Audit Taskforce.

In May 2018, the Taskforce released its first status report with its initial recommendations which Master Builders has supported.

The issue the Taskforce is addressing is a historical one: how to make the affected buildings safe and how to prevent the problem reoccurring. New stringent rules that came into effect, Amendment 1 to Volume One the National Construction Code (NCC) 16, from 12 March 2018 will help ensure this problem doesn’t occur in the future.

The Taskforce report identified 71 government buildings with potential combustible cladding. These moved on to being investigated in more detail.

The Taskforce also identified approximately 12,000 privately-owned buildings likely to require some level of assessment. Of those buildings we expect that somewhere in the order of 100 to 200 buildings will require some remediation.

The critical issues for builders are:

  • Regulation will be introduced during 2018 which will require building owners to take action to address combustible cladding in their buildings. Buildings with any potentially combustible cladding will need to be assessed by a Fire Engineer. The assessment will be based on the laws that are current at the time the Fire Engineer does the assessment.
  • While responsibility for this assessment sits with the building owner, we are concerned that in private buildings where a problem exists, building owners may look to lay the responsibility for any remediation with the builder.
  • One option for building owners would be pursuing this with the QBCC. For buildings within six years and six months of practical completion, the QBCC can direct builders and installers to rectify defective building work.
  • However, there is a question as to whether the combustible cladding, in these circumstances, is defective building work, bearing in mind that the cladding will be assessed against the current NCC (that is, the new requirements).
  • Our view is that it would not be defective building work provided the building complied with the NCC at the time of construction.

We are exploring the builders’ legal liability in these circumstances.

We are therefore urging builders and contractors to undertake the following:

  • On current projects, work with your consultants, certifiers and Fire Engineer to ensure that you are installing cladding products in accordance with the updated NCC (changes already in force from 12 March 2018 and the changes expected from 1 May 2019). Specifically, consider using a Fire Engineer to review and approve all external wall assemblies where there is a risk that any component of the external wall assembly may be combustible.
  • Audit those projects that you have completed since 1994 to understand whether there is a possibility of the non-compliant use of cladding. If necessary consult with your suppliers, consultants and Fire Engineer to understand the extent and nature of the risk.
  • Keep abreast of the NCBP Audit Taskforce communications and stay up-to-date with the latest information in relation to the use of ACP cladding in facade systems.

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