The cladding in question are aluminium composite panels (ACP). These have a polyethylene or plastic core and an aluminium coating. It is a cheaper building material widely used worldwide to clad all types of buildings. These panels are lightweight, easy to install, and provide an attractive metallic finish, which are easy to maintain.
The panels typically range from 4 to 6 mm in thickness, made up of two outer aluminium skins, separated by an inner insulating core. Fire rated panels have a mineral core. Other panels have a polyethylene core and it is this type implicated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Polyethylene (PE) is a highly combustible plastic with a melting point from 115-degrees Celsius.
In other words, buildings that have installed Cladding with a PE core essentially have a product as flammable as petrol affixed to the exterior of the building.
Testing is the only true way to know what type of ACP cladding has been installed. Even sourcing the original documents, specifying what ACP cladding was installed, is no guarantee of what grade of material was used.
Builders may in some instances, utilised a substitute combustible product due to cost or availability. This was not regulated until recently.
In November 2014, the Melbourne Docklands apartment building fire in Victoria drew attention to the serious implications for fire safety of the use of combustible external cladding using ACP made of PE core.
The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) found that the use of ACP cladding was a contributing factor to the rapid vertical spread of the fire. The CSIRO conducted tests on the cladding and found it to be combustible. The tests were abandoned after 93 seconds due to the potential for the test equipment to be damaged. This was due to the intensity of the fire caused by the particular cladding installed in this building.
Should a building owner (the Body Corporate) become aware that its building is cladded with non-compliant ACP, it is obliged to disclose this heightened risk factor to its insurer in accordance with the Insurance Contracts Act 1984 (Cth). This is because insurers may otherwise decline indemnity for a claim due to non-disclosure.
Any increase in liability is likely to result in an increase in premiums with some buildings reporting a substantial increase in premiums.
SSKB are working with insurers to ensure inspection and testing reports provided by Third Party providers comply with Insurer requirements.
In September 2017, the Senate Economic References Committee delivered an interim report on aluminium composite cladding which recommended a total ban on the importation, sale and use of polyethylene-core composite panels as one of its eight recommendations.
The final recommendation on the report was that state and territory governments work together to develop a nationally consistent statutory duty of care protection for end users in the residential strata sector.
In addition, the National Construction Code was also updated and was formally adopted by all Australian States and Territories in March 2018.
One of the amendments was a verification method which in external cladding is deemed compliant when tested under AS5113 and combined with measures such as cavity barriers and sprinklers on balconies.
In mid-2018, the Australian Cladding & Building Standards Summit was held in Melbourne featuring updates from state taskforces, all levels of government, leading industry bodies, insurance sector representatives, key experts, owner interest groups and emergency services.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) has advised that the Queensland Government will be issuing an online assessment regarding cladding to Building Owners.
The Government will use this information to identify what buildings are high, medium and low risk.
In addition, the Queensland Parliament passed a suite of reforms that establishes a chain of responsibility, placing duties on building supply chain participants (including designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers) to ensure building products used in Queensland are safe and fit for intended purpose.