Senate Committee adopts AIA recommendations

Anatomy of Grenfell Tower cladding

In light of the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017, the Federal Senate Committee prepared an additional interim report which came out on 6 September covering the implications of the use of non-compliant external cladding materials in Australia. A final report will be made on 30 April 2018. The terms of reference can be found here.

The Australian Institute of Architects fully supports all of the recommendations put forward by the Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into non-conforming building products in their interim report on aluminium composite cladding.

National President Richard Kirk said the Institute shares the Committee’s view that the use of non-conforming and non-compliant building products represents a very real and present threat to the community.

‘We support the Committee’s call for further urgent action to address the danger to our community posed by the de-professionalisation of building procurement over many years now.

‘As our cities become increasingly dense, and our buildings more complex, it is essential that those within industry become more – not less – skilled and qualified and their work subject to appropriately stringent checks and certification.

‘The built environment is an area where regulation is not only appropriate but necessary. Cutting red tape cannot and should not come at the expense of people’s safety.

Tower blocks from Silchester Road W10. The building on the left is Grenfell Tower, before the fire disaster of 2017, also before new cladding was added.

Tower blocks from Silchester Road W10. The building on the left is Grenfell Tower, before the fire disaster of 2017, also before new cladding was added.

‘As we have said, and the Committee has recommended, non-compliance must be punished with substantial fines and other penalties.’

In a submission to the Senate Enquiry, the Australian Institute of Architects states that,

“The increasing presence of non-conforming products and materials is a matter of great concern to members of the Institute. The use of non-conforming building products raises some very complicated issues, and dealing with it requires a multi-faceted approach, with public safety coming first and foremost, even if this comes with increased and more stringent regulation for the building industry. There are short and medium terms solutions that can be implemented, however, there is an immediate need to introduce a rolling nation-wide audit of existing buildings for all non-conforming building products, not just cladding, to ensure there are no immediate risks to public health and safety.”

non-conforming building products and non -complying products

This submission relates to all types of non-conforming building products to mitigate risk and the use of dangerous products such as and including non-conforming cladding material. The AIA submission looks closely at industry regulations but it also focuses on the roles of architects and that of regulated design in the mitigation of risk.

Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Cunich said the Senate Committee had considered the evidence and recommended solutions the Institute had put forward.

‘The recommendations, if implemented, will go a long way to addressing many of the issues that architects have identified over an extended period,’ Cunich said.

‘We have called for improved measures to manage the risks posed by non-conforming and non-complying building products now and into the future.

‘Unlike other building practitioners, an architect who is a member of the Institute is professionally qualified with a minimum of five years’ study of an accredited university program, mandatory practical experience and a registration exam, legally registered to practice by State Registration Boards and bound by a code of conduct established by Institute.

‘We welcome the Committee’s adoption of our recommendation to establish a national licensing scheme, with requirements for continued professional development for all building practitioners.

Canberra Hospital

The AIA submission covered:

  • the role of architects
  • importation and sale of materials and products
  • certification and testing
  • problems with product substitution
  • regulating design, documentation and specification
  • knowledge of codes and standards by all building practitioners
  • regulation of building practitioners

The listed recommendations cover:

  • Introduce third party certification regimes from testing laboratories that are properly recognised and accredited by NATA
  • Mandate that imported and local manufactured cladding to obtain a third party certification for their cladding products – and other high risk materials and products
  • Bring certification schemes under one umbrella (JAS-ANZ) to ensure minimum standards are upheld and are correct
  • Regulate so that a third party certification is valid only for a nominated period
  • Establish a national register of approved products with respect to each building class
  • Introduce substantial fines for substitution of compliant with non-compliant building products
  • Mandate the use of appropriate expertise throughout all stages of the design and construction process with special provisions for authorisation of product substitution
  • Introduce regulation to require minimum initial and ongoing education about the National Construction Code and Australian standards by all building practitioners
  • Introducing nationally consistent licensing for all building practitioners such as drafters, building designers, project managers and the like
  • Ensure architects should be involved in and appointed to any inquiry or expert review panel formed in the future.

The strict adherence to regulation will end the risk to public health and safety, and ensure buildings are completed to the highest industry standards. Of concern is the danger and risk firefighters are exposed to, recently investigated by the media. Compliance will not only reduce risk and cost to the wider community it will also ensure the participation of the most qualified industry accredited and compliant professionals to bring about these results.