State-wide cladding audit

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) is coordinating Western Australia’s State-wide Cladding Audit, which is part of an Australia-wide initiative to check the cladding on high-risk buildings following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London.

In the early hours of 14 June 2017, fire engulfed the 24-storey apartment block, causing 72 deaths and many injuries.

While British authorities are yet to announce the results of their inquiry into the cause of the fire and its rapid internal and external spread, initial indications suggest that recently installed external wall cladding contributed to the fire’s vertical and lateral spread.

The Grenfell Tower fire reinforced the need to ensure buildings are safe from the risk of rapid fire spread not only in the United Kingdom but worldwide including Australia. The tragedy put a particular focus on the installation of potentially combustible cladding products including in the refurbishment of old buildings.

In June 2017, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote to the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan MLA seeking the support of all state and territory governments to ensure necessary steps are taken to prevent a similar tragedy in Australia.

The Building Commissioner announced on 4 July 2017 that, in response to the Grenfell Tower fire, the WA Building Commission  (now the Building and Energy division of DMIRS) would broaden the scope of an initial audit it had been carrying out on aluminium composite panels (ACPs) into a state-wide cladding audit that would include all high-risk, high-rise buildings with cladding attached. Similar audits have been commenced or undertaken in other states and territories including South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and the Commonwealth.

The Building Commissioner will publish fortnightly updates about the state-wide cladding audit of private and public buildings on this webpage and will report on its findings at the conclusion of the audit.

How is the audit being undertaken?

The audit is being carried out in the three phases detailed below.

Phase One – the Planning phase – complete

This phase involved:

  • the establishment of an audit team, audit plan, assessment methodology and communication plan; and
  • the establishment and regular meetings of an Audit Regulator Group (ARG) consisting of DMIRS, Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and local government representatives; and an Audit Stakeholder Group (ASG), consisting of building industry and building owner representative bodies.

Phase Two – the Execution phase – commenced

This phase involves:

  • Stage 1A – the identification of buildings in the metropolitan area (complete) and in regional areas (complete) of the class and height falling within the audit scope;
  • Stage 1B – the identification of buildings within stage 1A that have cladding attached (complete);
  • Stage 2A – the collation of data for preliminary assessments of buildings in the metropolitan area and in regional areas (complete);
  • Stage 2B – the preliminary assessment of buildings in the metropolitan and in regional areas to determine buildings that require further investigation (complete);
  • Stage 3 – the gathering and assessment of building information and the carrying out of site inspections to determine whether any action is required in relation to the existence of cladding on the building. This stage may involve testing of façade materials (almost complete); and
  • Stage 4 – determination of buildings requiring remedial action (commenced).

These stages are operating concurrently and the figures in the audit update are updated fortnightly to reflect this. 

Phase 3 – the Reporting phase – not yet commenced

After all building assessments undertaken by DMIRS have been completed, an audit report will be prepared and published. 

Private buildings assessed as moderate or high risk will be referred to the relevant local government permit authority which has the power under the Building Act to order the building owner to engage an expert to conduct a survey and provide a report in relation to the cladding.  The local government permit authority can also order that the cladding be remediated via the issue of a building order.  Alternatively, some building owners may opt to remediate cladding using the building permit pathway under the Building Act.

DMIRS will continue to monitor the outcome of local government permit authority activities to ensure no building poses an unacceptable risk of fire spread due to combustible cladding.  DMIRS will include updates on its fortnightly reports in relation to actions taken by local government permit authorities in response to assessments referred to them by DMIRS.  

DMIRS will also continue to publish updates  about the status of public buildings involved in the audit.

What is being done to assist building owners during the audit?

DMIRS is working with individual owners and Strata Community Australia WA (SCA WA), as a representative group of strata managers, to ensure private building owners are updated in relation to the progress of the audit.

SCA WA and the relevant local governments have assisted DMIRS by identifying the building owners and representatives for buildings assessed in the audit.

DMIRS recognises it must take a leadership role on behalf of the community of Western Australia to ensure that cladding does not pose an unacceptable risk to building occupants.

DMIRS is assisting owners by undertaking a preliminary assessment to determine whether the presence of cladding on their building poses a level of risk that warrants further investigation. A fire engineer has been engaged to assist the cladding audit team with preliminary assessments and other activities as required. Any testing that is required will be facilitated and funded by DMIRS on behalf of owners.

Following the completion of the preliminary assessment of their building, DMIRS has written to all building owners.  Depending on the level of risk identified, owners have been advised that:

  • further investigation of their buildings will not be carried out as part of the audit but that they may wish to have their own assessment done; or
  • their buildings will undergo further investigation including obtaining the building approval documentation from the relevant local government permit authority and the builder.

Buildings identified for further investigation do not necessarily have issues with their cladding. These buildings have simply been identified as having external wall cladding incorporated into their construction that, due to factors such as the type, extent and location of the cladding, requires further investigation. The investigation is expected to eliminate many buildings once the type of cladding used has been determined. For example, much of the cladding used in buildings in compressed fibrous cement sheeting which is a non-combustible cladding material.

What do owners need to do following confirmation their building has been referred to the local government permit authority?

Notice of Proposed Building Order

  • Upon receipt of a fire engineering assessment report provided by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS), your local government permit authority (Authority) will issue you a Notice of Proposed Building Order (Notice) in writing.  The Notice will advise you:
  • That a fire engineering risk assessment has been carried out by DMIRS which determined that external wall cladding material used on the building presented either a moderate or high risk.
  • Following receipt of the report your Authority is required in the interests of public safety to issue a Building Order in accordance with section 110 of the Building Act 2011
  • The Building Order will require the building owner/s to obtain a fire engineer’s assessment of the building to specify if remedial action is required.
  • The Notice is a preliminary document which sets out the local government’s intentions and gives you an opportunity to respond prior to the Authority making a final decision.
  • If you receive a Notice it is important you do not ignore it.  You may wish to seek independent legal advice or engage a building professional to assist you with a response to the Notice.
  • The Notice provides you an opportunity to make a representation to the Authority in relation to the requirements set out in the Notice and any timeframes that the Authority has specified.
  • Any representations must be made in writing before the expiry date specified in the notice.
  • You may also decide to comply with the requirements specified in the Notice and engage a fire engineer to carry out an assessment of the cladding.

What happens after I have received a Notice?

  • If you have made representations to the Authority, it must consider those representations before issuing a Building Order.
  • If you decide to comply with the Notice the Authority will discuss options to help you move forward.

What happens after the Building Order is issued?

  • The Building Order will specify that you must seek a fire engineer’s report to assess combustible cladding and, where necessary, identify any remedial action needed to ensure the building meet the performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia.
  • The Authority will provide you advice on how to ensure you engage a fire engineer with the necessary expertise and experience to comply with the Building Order. The Authority may specify that you comply with the DMIRS ‘Fire Engineering assessment of external cladding – Guidance note.’  
  • Once you have selected a fire engineer you will need to provide them with a copy of the Building Order and all previous reports provided to you by DMIRS.  It will also be helpful to provide your fire engineer with copies of plans of your building.  If you do not have these you can request these from the Authority.
  • Your fire engineer will need to carry out an assessment of the cladding on your building within the timeframe specified in the Building Order following which a fire engineering report will be prepared.
  • The fire engineering report must be submitted to the Authority. 
  • The fire engineer may recommend you implement interim measures to mitigate the risk posed by the combustible cladding material.
  • DMIRS has prepared a guide on steps building owners should take to ensure safety of its occupants: ‘Fire safety in existing apartment buildings.’ 

What happens after I have submitted the fire engineering report to the Authority?

  • The Authority will consider the fire engineer report including advice on how to remediate the combustible cladding.
  • The Authority may then issue a second Building Order to facilitate the carrying out of the remedial works including any interim works or actions identified by the fire engineer.
  • The Building Order will specify the timeframe by which works or actions must be completed and the evidence required to be submitted to the Authority at the completion of works.

What happens if you fail to comply with a Building Order?

  • There are serious penalties for anyone who fails to comply with a Building Order and fines of up to $50,000 can be imposed for a first offence.
  • More importantly, your building has been deemed unsafe and ignoring a Building Order places the safety of occupants and visitors at risk.  A building deemed to be in a dangerous state is also likely to affect your ability to secure property insurance.

What if you need more time?

  • The Authority will consider written applications seeking an extension of time to comply with the Notice or Building Order. 
  • DMIRS and the Authorities appreciate the difficulties and anxiety caused by the improper use of combustible cladding on buildings and are committed to providing as much assistance as appropriate to guide owners through the process. It is important you communicate effectively and regularly with the Authority.

Will the location of private buildings will published?

The Building Commissioner is bound by confidentiality and is unable to disclose information obtained during the performance of his functions unless certain exemptions exist. The Building Commissioner has formed a view that it is not in the public interest to publicly disclose details of individual buildings.

However, it must be emphasised that building owners and (where applicable) strata managers are regularly updated about the audit progress for their particular site, and they are responsible for informing occupants about any relevant issues.

In addition to guidance materials and regularly updated status reports published on the DMIRS website, the Building Commissioner has been writing to the owners and/or strata managers of each building that has been the subject of an assessment.

Not publicly naming the private buildings also offers protection against potential arson attacks, following reports in other jurisdictions that buildings identified as having combustible cladding have been targeted by arsonists. 

Anyone with a genuine interest in whether a particular building is subject to action in relation to its cladding can contact the cladding audit team on 1300 489 099.

Will the location of public buildings be published?

DMIRS is working closely with the responsible department, agency or university as they coordinate assessments of their own buildings. 

While DMIRS will assess and include all the results in its final audit report, the individual department, agency or university is responsible for management and discussion of its own building assets. 

What is the current status of the audit?

A breakdown of figures relating to the audit of privately-owned WA buildings is provided in the State-wide cladding audit status update. The various stages of the audit will operate concurrently and the figures are being constantly updated to reflect this. 

To ensure all WA buildings are captured in the audit, DMIRS recently issued direction notices to 115 building surveying contractors in regards to building works in progress. The direction notices requested that the Building Commissioner be provided with information relating to any Certificates of Design Compliance issued by their offices from July 2017 that involved high risk buildings with cladding.

Further information about the audit progress is contained in the ‘How is the audit being undertaken?’ section above.

Announcements and publications

On 27 February a Fire engineering assessment of external cladding – Guidance note was published.

In October 2017, the Building Commission published its Fire safety in existing apartment buildings fact sheet.

In July 2017, the Building Commission issued the media statement State-wide cladding audit underway.

In August 2016, the Australian Building Codes Board released an advisory note on Fire Performance of External Walls and Cladding.

In April 2016, the Building Commission published its Aluminium composite panelling in high-rise buildings – interim audit report.

A further industry bulletin, Industry Bulletin 62: Victorian Building Authority external wall cladding audit report, was issued in March 2016 reminding industry on the issues around external wall cladding. The bulletin alerted industry to the valuable information and lessons learnt from the Victorian Building Authority audit report released on external wall cladding following the Lacrosse apartment building fire in Melbourne. 

In May 2015, the Building Commissioner issued Industry Bulletin 54: External wall cladding – fire safety to all registered builders and building surveyors, permit authorities and other industry contacts.

What is the audit scope?

The state-wide cladding audit will:

  • Identify buildings three storeys and over, classes 2, 3, 4 and 9 with cladding, constructed or refurbished (where a building licence/permit was issued) after 2000. These are generally buildings in which people sleep – such as apartments, hotels and other short-stay accommodation – or which accommodate vulnerable occupants or high occupancy events.
  • Determine whether cladding associated with these buildings poses an unacceptable risk of fire spread.
  • Apply an appropriate intervention where an unacceptable risk is found to exist.

Buildings are being assessed based on their degree of risk to public safety.

The audit scope has been developed in partnership with other regulatory and advisory bodies assisting in the audit under an Audit Regulator Group (ARG). The ARG includes representatives from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the Western Australian Local Government Association (on behalf of local government), representatives of the three permit authorities of Perth, Victoria Park and Cockburn, and members of the cladding audit team.

DMIRS continues to collaborate with regulators in other jurisdictions that are similarly auditing buildings with cladding attached.

What types of cladding will be assessed?

The state-wide cladding audit is assessing buildings with any type of cladding attached that fit within the audit scope.

Cladding is not limited to aluminium composite paneling during this audit and the audit may carry out testing of a cladding to ensure that what was specified was in fact installed.

Who is carrying out the state-wide cladding audit?

Private buildings

DMIRS is coordinating the state-wide cladding audit of private buildings.

The cladding audit team includes a number of building and fire experts is supported by a panel of fire engineers established to carry out detailed risk assessments of buildings that were not be cleared during stage 2 of the audit process.

The Building Commissioner wrote to all Western Australian permit authorities on 4 July 2017 asking for their assistance with the state-wide cladding audit for buildings within their jurisdictions.

Permit authority certification records and Department of Fire and Emergency Services building records have been used to identify buildings that require further assessment.

Through the Audit Regulator Group (ARG), DMIRS has worked collaboratively with three local government representatives, WALGA and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to finalise the scope of the audit and to identify buildings with cladding attached.

An Audit Stakeholder Group (ASG) met for the first time on 6 July 2017 to assist with the facilitation of information about the audit. The ASG includes representatives from (in alphabetical order):

  • Australian Institute of Architects
  • Australian Institute of Building
  • Australian Institute of Building Surveyors
  • Building and Energy
  • City of Cockburn
  • City of Perth
  • Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)
  • Department of Fire and Emergency Services
  • Housing Industry Association
  • Local Government Insurance Services Western Australia
  • Master Builders Association
  • Property Council of Australia
  • Society of Fire Safety
  • Strata Community Australia
  • Town of Victoria Park
  • Western Australian Local Government Association

As buildings are identified as falling within the scope of the audit that require further investigation DMIRS and the relevant permit authority will work with building owners to ensure the cladding attached to their buildings does not pose an unacceptable risk of fire spread.

State housing and publicly-owned buildings

DMIRS is assisting departments, agencies and public universities in carrying out assessments of their building assets and detailed fire engineering reports have commenced for all buildings that have not been cleared following an initial risk assessments.most Reports are expected to be completed by late April 2019. DMIRS will continue to publish regular updates about the progress of publicly owned buildings on this webpage.

Additional safety measures are in place to ensure the public is kept safe whilst the audit is brought to a completion.

The Department of Communities is responsible for assessing state housing buildings, and is the primary State Government contact for enquiries about the cladding on these buildings. This includes the Foyer Oxford building in Leederville.

The Department of Finance – Building Management and Works is assisting some government agencies with the assessment of publicly-owned buildings. Other government agencies with responsibility for public buildings are undertaking their own investigations with the assistance of relevant experts.

How long will the audit take?

This is a large-scale project across a big jurisdiction that needs to be completed thoroughly and methodically with expert advice.

Almost 4000 private and public buildings were initially found to fit the audit scope. The early stages involved a kerbside inspection to identify those with cladding and additional measures were applied to ensure no building was overlooked.

Buildings that could not be cleared during the preliminary assessment progressed to a comprehensive risk assessment of building records, as well as on-site physical inspections and testing of the materials as required.

The audit itself is expected to be completed and a report presented to Government by mid-2019.

When are buildings required to be fixed? 

The timeframes will vary depending on the building and the scale of its cladding issue.

However, building owners have a vested interest in ensuring their property is safe. We expect any remediation action will be a priority for building owners – not only for the safety and comfort of their occupants, but also to ensure their building fulfils insurance requirements.

In the case of private buildings referred to local government, if a building order is issued, by law the building owner must comply with the order unless an application is made to the State Administrative Tribunal for review of the decision to make the building order.

What should building owners, managers and occupiers do if they have concerns about cladding?

Fire events in Australia and around the world highlight the need for building owners and occupants to remain vigilant about maintaining safety and knowing their emergency response in the case of a building fire.

In some of these cases, the use of certain types of external wall cladding was found to contribute to the rapid fire spread across the façade of the building. 

Aluminium composite panels (ACPs) were found to have contributed to the spread of fire in the Lacrosse apartment building in Melbourne in 2014, however not all ACPs is dangerous. Such products are usually manufactured in a range of grades that can be used appropriately in some circumstances.

Identifying ACPs on a building, including the combustible version of the product, is not necessarily cause for concern. It depends on whether the cladding is used in accordance with the applicable codes and standards.

Home owners with concerns about cladding should contact their building manager in the first instance.

Building managers should raise any concerns about a building’s cladding with the builder. If building managers are unsure who the builder was they should contact the relevant local government.

If dissatisfied with their builder’s response the building manager or owner may wish to speak to the building surveyor who certified the building or engage a suitably qualified fire engineer to carry out a performance assessment of the cladding to ensure it does not pose an unacceptable risk of fire spread.

Building owners and managers who intend to arrange a performance assessment of their buildings are asked to notify DMIRS at be.info@dmirs.wa.gov.au or phone 1300 489 099.

Building managers may arrange to have any necessary rectification works carried out. A building permit may be required for such building work.

If their building has been completed in the past six years, home owners may be able to lodge a building services complaint with the Building and Energy. They will need to provide evidence to support their complaint.

Anyone associated with an apartment building who is concerned that the building managing body (often referred to as the body corporate) is not taking these fire safety concerns seriously is asked to contact DMIRS at be.info@dmirs.wa.gov.au or phone 1300 489 099.

DMIRS has published a Fire safety in existing apartment buildings fact sheet, to remind building owners, managers and occupiers of their roles and responsibilities in keeping themselves and their buildings fire safe. 

What did the initial audit of aluminium composite panels find?

The Building Commissioner commenced an initial audit of ACPs following the Lacrosse apartment building fire in Melbourne on 25 November 2014. The Lacrosse fire was identified by the Victorian authorities as having spread via ACPs attached to the external walls of the building.

Working with the City of Perth and Town of Victoria Park, the initial audit assessed the fire risk from ACPs in high-rise apartment, hotel and public buildings that were over three storeys in height and constructed in the past 10 years. All of the ACPs assessed in the initial audit contained fire resistant cores.

Ninety-one buildings (70 in City of Perth and 21 in the Town of Victoria Park) initially met the criteria for the initial audit (in regards to use and size of the building). Nine of those buildings in City of Perth and seven in the Town of Victoria Park were found to contain ACPs and were further examined in the initial audit.

The initial audit found no buildings in which the use of ACPs gave cause for concern – all of the ACPs assessed in these audits had fire resistant cores. It should be noted that the initial audit specifically targeted fire risk from ACPs without fire-resistant cores.

The type of product used on the Lacrosse apartment building was not identified in any of the Western Australian buildings audited in the initial audit.

Further information is provided in the interim audit report

What advice does DMIRS have for members of the building industry?

Fire safety concerns have been raised about the use of external wall cladding where that product had not been tested or demonstrated to meet the requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) for that use.

Such products can lead to a rapid vertical and lateral spread of a fire via the façade of the building which raises serious safety concerns.

Western Australian building legislation requires buildings to comply with the BCA which includes requirements on fire safety. In general the BCA Volume 1 contains provisions for external walls of buildings falling under type A and type B construction (typically medium rise and high-rise commercial buildings including residential apartment buildings) to be non-combustible.

Further information for building surveyors, builders, designers and owners is provided in Industry Bulletin 54: External wall cladding – fire safety.

Any non-compliant use of cladding should be reported to the Building  in the first instance.

How is compliance with the building legislation enforced?

All building work in Western Australia must comply with the applicable building standards. The Building Act 2011 adopts the Building Code of Australia (BCA), which forms part of the National Construction Code as the primary applicable building standard.

The BCA is produced and maintained by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) on behalf of the Australian Government and each state and territory government.

The BCA is a performance-based document with nationally consistent, minimum necessary standards for relevant safety (including structural safety and safety from fire), health, amenity and sustainability objectives.

On 6 October 2018 the McGowan Government introduced new building regulations to restrict the use of combustible material on building facades of high-risk buildings.

The new building regulations prevent the use of performance solutions by restricting the use of combustible cladding to those that can demonstrate compliance under the Building Code of Australia’s (BCA) new verification method.

This method also includes the requirement for sprinklers in high-risk buildings.

The BCA was updated, in March, to remove any ambiguity around the use of combustible cladding on buildings.

Any combustible cladding proposed to be used on those buildings needs to demonstrate it has passed the large-scale fire test required under Australian Standard AS 5113 or receive approval from the Building Commissioner.

The update to the BCA and the introduction of the new building regulations will substantially prevent the use of dangerous polyethylene (PE) cladding or an expanded polystyrene cladding in a building facade.

These amendments are not retrospective.

Building surveyors have a role in certifying buildings’ compliance with applicable building standards. This includes checking compliance with applicable building standards when issuing a certificate of design compliance (CDC) for the purpose of obtaining a building permit before building work can commence and issuing a certificate of building compliance or construction compliance when applying for an occupancy permit. 

The builder’s role includes ensuring that the correct materials have been used in the construction. The builder must ensure that on completion the building complies with the plans and specifications that are specified in the applicable CDC and applicable building standards.

The Building Commissioner, through the Building Services Board, registers builders and building surveyors.

As part of its proactive measures, the Building Commissioner conducts audits of building service providers on a random and targeted basis. 

Should a builder or building surveyor be found to have failed to meet their obligations under the Building Services (Registration) Act 2011, the Building Services Board or State Administrative Tribunal have a range of disciplinary actions/outcomes available to them, which include a caution, reprimand, fines, requiring further training to be undertaken, placing conditions on a builder’s registration or deregistering the builder or building surveyor. There are also offences under the Building Act 2011 for failure to comply with applicable building standards, which may result in fines or imprisonment for repeated offences.

Permit authorities, usually the local government, have powers under the building legislation to enforce the compliance, maintenance and safety of buildings within their jurisdiction. In the event a building’s cladding is found to be dangerous the permit authority can issue a building order requiring that it brought to a safe state.

What is being done to address issues around non-conforming and non-complying building products?

Nationally, Building Ministers in conjunction with the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) are working to deliver a comprehensive package of improvements to tackle the challenges associated with product compliance.

Through the national Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF), Building Ministers including the Western Australian Attorney General; Minister for Commerce John Quigley MLA LLB, JP are working cooperatively to address safety issues associated with non-conforming and non-complying building products.

A Senior Officers’ Group consisting of representatives from all jurisdictions has been established to report on ways to minimise the risk to consumers, businesses and the community.

The BMF has issued a number of communiqués regarding its decisions and these can be viewed on the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Innovation and Science website; www.industry.gov.au

The Australian Building Codes Board website contains information about product certification and the reporting of non-conforming building products.

Information including recent developments in regards to non-conforming building products is on the Building and Energy website.

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