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London cladding prompts fire safety awareness for Australian unit owners

23 June 2017 Sasha Karen
Fire safety, break glass in case of fire

With discussions of the London Grenfell Tower fire turning to the apartment complex’s cladding as the reason why the fire flared up, a strata company is calling for unit owners to use this incident as a reminder to inspect their own properties for fire hazards.

The loss of at least 79 lives in the London Grenfell Tower fire, with fears the number could rise, has been attributed to aluminium cladding, and has Archers - the Strata Professionals director Colin Archer - look at fire safety compliance in Australia as a part of a senate inquiry into non-conforming building products, which opened in 2015.

“We welcome the formation of the senate inquiry to investigate the implications to Australian buildings of potentially dangerous building products, such as the cladding that caused the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne Docklands in 2014,” Mr Archer said.

“We need to act now to ensure our unit owners have assurance that their buildings comply with existing fire safety standards and Bodies Corporate have mitigated fire risks in their building.

“The impact of this fire is heart-breaking and should be considered a wake-up call for Australian apartment owners to the necessity of up-to-date and compliant fire safety measures in residential buildings.”

Mr Archer said that reasons for not complying with fire safety regulations were because of complacency or unnecessary cost-cutting measures that reduced funds for annual fire audit and training.

“On a more sinister note, some bodies corporate simply ‘don’t want to know’ as the remedy may come at a substantial cost and a valuation downgrade to the building – I would certainly not like to be the committee justifying that approach to a coronial inquiry,” he said.

He also recommended owners should have emergency plans in place such as training and signage for tenants.

“Evacuation plans cannot be underestimated – residents that have been trained in the correct emergency procedure and know where to go in the event of a fire, are likely to get out of a building 10 times faster than those that aren’t,” Mr Archer said.

Mr Archer added residents and body corporates need to be aware that any suggested improvements to a building may compromise the fire safety of a complex.

“Many people will put in a security door, install or remove internal partitions, or have a deadlock or peephole installed without realising this could interfere with the doors’ fire safety, rendering it non-compliant with regulations,” he warned.

“We recommend before any planned changes to a building are set in stone, particularly amendments to stairwells and lifts, a private certifier should be engaged to ensure the changes will not impinge on fire safety.”

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The findings of the inquiry into non-conforming building products, which are expected to be released in a final report by 31 October, has Mr Archer predicting the tragedy of the London Grenfell Tower will instigate stricter legislation.

“We will closely monitor the dilemma facing legislators in coming to a workable solution to provide tighter regulation, knowing that in instances where the building products are found to be faulty after the expiry of the defects period there is unlikely to be any building insurance remedy, with the repair cost to be at the owners’ expense,” Mr Archer said.

“In the case of Lacrosse in Melbourne, this cost was estimated at $15 million or $50,000 per apartment.

“It is probable the London Grenfell Tower inferno will be a catalyst for stricter legislation prohibiting import of potentially dangerous building products and a focus on compliance with building and fire safety standards in Australia.” 

London cladding prompts fire safety awareness for Australian unit owners
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