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London Grenfell Tower fire: What does it mean for buildings in Australia?

The recent and devastating fire at the Grenfell Tower in London that has claimed 17 lives with likely more to come has led to speculation about the potential for it to happen in Australia. There are growing concerns that the aluminium cladding on the outside of the Grenfell building helped spread the massive blaze which has led to questions as to the availability of the same materials in dwellings here.

Already there are questions about how a fire could spread so quickly and why it was so difficult for people to escape. Questions have been raised about the role of building products and the extent to which they contributed to the disaster. In time, a thorough investigation will reveal the full details of what caused the incident and no doubt Australian authorities will be monitoring these inquiries closely and make improvements to local laws.

A 2014, fire at the Lacrosse Tower in Melbourne caused authorities to carry out inspections on building products used in the construction of similar buildings to ensure products were fit for purpose. The ferocious blaze in the Lacrosse Tower was blamed on illegal imported decorative cladding. It took just 15 minutes for a single burning cigarette left on the balcony of the Lacrosse building in Melbourne’s Docklands to send 13 floors of the block up in flames. The fire used imported cladding from China, that failed to meet Australian standards, to creep up the side of the structure. Similar cladding has been blamed for a series of skyscraper fires and fatalities.

Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia said, “The relevant laws we have in Australia are comprehensive and under almost continuous review. Recent changes to the ABCC laws, for example, gave the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner a bigger role in monitoring building products used in construction projects funded by the Commonwealth Government. The issue has been on the agenda for various COAG committees, including the Building Ministers Forum.”

“Master Builders and our members understand the importance of ensuring building products are fit for purpose and installed correctly, but there is always a risk that some products entering Australia don’t meet minimum requirements,” Denita Wawn said.

“Everyone in the building supply chain including manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers, retailers, building designers, builders and contractors have a shared responsibility to ensure building products are safe and fit for purpose,” she said.

“While the focus is often on builders, greater attention should be given to those involved in importation and distribution. Making sure these products don’t enter the Australian market in the first place is a position that Master Builders has made clear in submissions to Government and other inquiries,” Denita Wawn said.

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that documents obtained by the State Opposition under Freedom of Information laws identified that up to 2500 buildings in NSW may have the same sort of exterior.  But despite this estimation, the government still appears to have no idea of the precise numbers of buildings that have risky cladding.

ABCC –  Australian Building and Construction Commission

COAG – Council of Australian Governments

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Azal Khan

Azal Khan was a in-house features writer for Elite Agent Magazine.