Further to a notice from the Building Commission, fire safety concerns have emerged around the use of non-compliant aluminium composite panels (ACP) for external wall cladding.
This issue was highlighted last November with an apartment fire in Melbourne’s Docklands. The fire started on an eighth-floor balcony and spread 13 storeys to the top of the building in less than 10 minutes. Investigations found that the Aluminium composite panels used for the external cladding did not meet the requirements of the BCA for that type of building. For buildings greater than three storeys, the BCA requires external cladding to be non-combustible. In order to comply, ACPs with a fire-resistant mineral-filled core would generally be used. The panels used on this apartment had a polyethylene core and, in this case, were non-complaint – failing Australian non-combustible tests and actually helping to ignite and spread the fire.
This is a global problem and one we wish to get on top of early. The same product has been linked to high rise fires elsewhere in China, the United Arab Emirates and France. In the UAE alone, there have been approximately 11 significant fires in tall buildings since 2007. While the use of non-compliant panels was recently banned in the UAE, it is estimated that around 500 (70%) of their existing high-rise buildings are clad with ACP.
This incident forms part of an ongoing issue regarding the prevalence of non-conforming, often imported products in the Australian building industry. There are a number of discussions and initiatives both at the State and Federal government level seeking to address this.
To ensure that panels have been tested and demonstrated to meet the fire requirements of the BCA, BMW now require all ACP products specified for future projects have a valid Codemark Certification for the appropriate building type and use.
CodeMark is a building product certification scheme that assesses products for their compliance with the BCA. Currently, CodeMark have suspended all Certificates of Conformity for ACPs and is re-issuing these as products are assessed and confirmed, as compliant. Codemark will not be re-issuing certificates for ACPs with polyethylene cores.
The good news is that an audit of over 150 recent BMW projects found no non-complaint ACP products had been specified.