High-rise audit in Australia needed after London blaze: Xenophon

In the wake of a deadly residential tower fire in London, Australian authorities have been told an audit of high-rise buildings with cladding is needed to ensure the material is fire-retardant.

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While investigators say it’s too early to determine the cause of the blaze in which at least 12 people died, residents have blamed new aluminium composite cladding — installed to make the building more energy efficient — for aiding the fire’s rapid spread.

“We need to have an audit of all high-rise buildings which have cladding to ensure that it’s fire-retardant, meets Australian standards or if it’s not, it needs to be removed,” independent senator Nick Xenophon told Sky News on Thursday.

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Fire safety engineer Stephen Kip says he’s seeing materials being used which are non-compliant.

“What I’m seeing when I audit buildings are uses of foam-based cladding materials, polystyrene, polyethelene and sometimes polyuretheane, which are not compliant with the building code, but which are used because they’re cheap and energy efficient,” he said.

A Senate committee has been investigating the use of non-conforming building materials and is due to finalise a report by October.

“But so far the evidence we have got is very disturbing,” Senator Xenophon said.

“Firefighters say this external cladding is flammable, non-conforming; stuff that shouldn’t be on buildings and poses an enormous risk on residents and to firefighters.”

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Other building products were being imported to Australia that did not conform with local standards, the senator said.

Thousands of kilometres of electrical cables already have been recalled and banned from the market by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“There are 22,000 homes in this country where this is a potential risk of fire or electrocution because of defective cables,” Senator Xenophon said.

Insulation Australia chairman Scott Gibson fears there is a proliferation of building products used in Australia that don’t comply or conform with building standards and he fears many have been used during the recent apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne.

His organisation wants governments to make it compulsory for all building products to undergo strict tests by an independent body to ensure they don’t pose fire or other safety risks.

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