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NSW amps up fire safety as audit finds 1000 dangerously clad buildings

The NSW government has pledged to implement Australia’s “most comprehensive response” to non-conforming and non-compliant materials in the wake of the Grenfell fire, following an audit finding there may be more than 1000 buildings containing similar dangerous cladding.

Under a new “10 point plan” legislation will be introduced to prohibit the sale and use of building products deemed unsafe, building owners forced to replace existing dodgy cladding, and those found supplying, installing or selling dodgy cladding prosecuted.

The audit findings, released on Friday, found 1011 buildings out of about 178,000 audited across the state were potentially at risk from dangerous cladding.

The government said it was instructing building owners to inspect the cladding, and also calling on councils to check the government’s data sets to ensure there were not any buildings overlooked.

Minister for better regulation Matt Kean said he was implementing “the toughest certification reform in Australia”.

“Our priority is to put consumers first and keep them as safe as possible in their homes,” Mr Kean said.

“We’ll do this by ensuring unsafe building products are taken off the shelves, buildings with cladding are identified and notified and that we only have people with the necessary skills and experience certifying buildings and signing off on fire safety.”

He said the package would act to protect consumers from products that were inherently dangerous or that were being advertised for use in a way that made them dangerous.

“Where a dangerous product has been used, the legislation will allow for rectification orders as well as prosecution for people caught supplying, selling or using them,” a government statement said.

The 10 point plan comprises:

  1. A comprehensive building product safety scheme that would prevent the use of dangerous products on buildings
  2. Identifying buildings that might have aluminium or other cladding
  3. Writing to the building / strata managers or owners of those buildings to encourage them to inspect the cladding and installation of cladding, if it exists
  4. NSW Fire and Rescue visiting all buildings on the list, as part of a fire safety education program. This will allow them to gather information they need to prepare for a potential fire at that building, and provide additional information to building owners
  5. Creating a new fire safety declaration that will require high rise residential buildings to inform state and local governments as well as NSW Fire and Rescue if their building has cladding on it
  6. Expediting reforms to toughen up the regulation of building certifiers
  7. Reforms to create an industry based accreditation, that will ensure only skilled and experienced people can do fire safety inspections
  8. Establishing a whole of government taskforce that will coordinate and roll out the reforms
  9. Instructing all government departments to audit their buildings and determine if they have aluminium cladding, with an initial focus on social housing
  10. Writing to local councils to follow up on correspondence they received from the state government, after Melbourne’s Lacrosse Tower fire, in 2016.

“We had already planned some of the reforms as a part of our Consumers First package, but have expedited them to better protect NSW families in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire,” Mr Kean said.

“We will also consider the ongoing investigation into that blaze, and make further changes, if needed, that will continue to put consumers first,” he said.

Building owners will be responsible for costs associated with cladding replacement, and while Mr Kean said there were currently no changes to defects rules in the midst, there were a number of avenues building owners could pursue to recover costs.

Other states and territories are currently conducting their own audits.

The news follows damning reports at the Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products, which found that fraud is rife on building sites, with fake certification and forged documents used for imported dodgy materials; complying goods are being substituted for cheaper counterfeits; and unqualified workers are providing certification on products that have not been tested for Building Code compliance.

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