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'Urgent' inquiry needed into building product compliance & fire safety

29 April, 2015

Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia), the peak body for the fire protection industry, is calling for an urgent review of the surveillance and auditing of building approvals, processes and all requirements for occupancy.

The Association strongly congratulated the Metropolitan Fire Brigade on their damning report into the Melbourne Docklands apartment fire which highlighted the use of non-compliant, highly combustible external cladding material, along with many other issues.

Equally, FPA Australia said it is pleased that the building practitioners involved in this incident are now being investigated by the Victorian Building Authority. However, the Association believes this issue highlights a much broader, systemic failure of building legislation and urgent action is needed.

In 2011 the Victorian Auditor General's Office (VAGO) report into the private building surveying industry in Victoria found that 96 percent of permits examined did not comply with the relevant building and safety standards.

FPA Australia CEO Scott Williams said more than three years on little has changed.

"Today we still have occupied buildings in Australia that have significant questions over the level of life safety provided for occupants and the public," he said.

"In the building and construction industry it is widely known that non-compliant products are bypassing the building approval process and are being installed in Australian buildings. This is a most significant concern to life safety and yet worryingly, is only identified when a fire event occurs.

"The community has an expectation that, particularly in new, multi storey buildings, they will be reasonably safe from fire. It appears this is not the case in many Australian buildings today. We know anecdotally that there are many other non-compliant products installed in many other buildings around the country.

"In a developed country non-compliant products simply should not be installed in buildings without required approvals. As such the Association again strongly repeats its recommendations made in 2011, in response to the VAGO report, which are as follows:

  • A review of the building approval system's effectiveness, particularly regarding the design, approval and commissioning of fire safety measures and associated alternative solutions.
  • Strengthening and enforcement of the regulations to clearly identify the difference between design, and determining compliance so that a building permit can be issued, in order to enforce the pecuniary interest provisions of section 79 of the Act and prevent building surveyors from issuing building permits for designs they have directly or indirectly been involved in developing.
  • Comprehensive risk-based surveillance and auditing of building surveyor competency regarding critical safety and technical issues including approval of fire safety alternative solutions.
  • Increased educational resources and programs to support best practice and the introduction of a mandatory requirement for continuing professional development (CPD) of building surveyors.

"Until the non-compliance is rectified in the Docklands apartment building, and other buildings where any non-compliance exists, there remains a level of fire safety risk for occupants and the public.

"This rectification however is a reactive measure that treats the symptoms, not the cause. The Association will continue to advocate for urgent change until the real problems - the failure of the regulatory system around the building approval process and requirements for occupancy - are resolved."

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