Senate inquiry into building safety

Senate inquiry into building safety

A Senate inquiry raises serious questions about the safety of building materials in Australia – an issue topping agendas everywhere after the deadly London tower fire.

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A Senate inquiry into the safety of building materials was held in Canberra last week.

The Commonwealth committee looked into national regulations that monitor the safety of buildings, with the involvement of Senators Chris Ketter (Labor), Kim Carr (Labor) and Nick Xenophon (NXT).

They’ve focused on the problem of non-conforming materials being used in construction projects. A number of interested parties have jumped at the opportunity to share their thoughts on this timely topic, including architects, academics and engineers.

Let’s take a brief look at two of the submissions to the inquiry.

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA)

As the peak body for Australian architects, they say their members are worried about the growing use of non-conforming products and materials. AIA calls for a multi-faceted approach that prioritises safety and could involve more stringent regulation of the building industry.

Their first call of action is for the government to roll out a nationwide audit of existing buildings for any non-conforming products (not just cladding) that threaten public health and safety.

They’re also concerned about the importation and sale of products from international manufacturers – the credentials of which can sometimes be shaky. It’s currently possible for anyone to import construction products and materials, even if they fail to understand how Australian standards apply to the materials they bring in.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed. AIA wants the government to consider introducing regulations that prevent the importation of materials unless they’ve first been tested and certified by a reputable Australian authority. Their other recommendations can be found here.

Engineers Australia

This is the professional and non-profit association for engineers. Their main concern is that Australian buildings aren’t being built and inspected in a way that complies with safety codes. Part of the problem is there’s inconsistency across the nation – with some jurisdictions using mandatory requirements for building surveyors to inspect the site, while others fall back on a risk based analysis.

In either case, a fire engineer is not always included in the final inspection of the building – which is when many non-compliant features are meant to be exposed. Engineers Australia also suggests that independent inspectors or engineers are deployed to inspect a building, rather than surveyors who often form part of the team.

Their other recommendations can be found here.

What’s next?

The outcome of this inquiry could have profound implications for builders, engineers, architects and other construction professionals in Queensland and across Australia – depending on how the government responds when the Senate report is tabled.

Watch this space for more information as it develops.