External wall cladding audit

Since the Lacrosse Tower fire in 2014, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) audited the use of cladding on more than 220 buildings in inner-Melbourne.

The Australian-first audit identified the extent of non-compliant use of external wall cladding materials in residential and public buildings of three or more stories.

The VBA employed a methodical approach to the audit, using its coercive powers to access and analyse thousands of building related documents including building permits, designs and plans. The VBA also visually inspected each building through its audit. This work is still ongoing.

Most of the buildings initially assessed as having a non-compliant use of cladding have since been assessed as compliant.

The VBA's cladding audit included:

  1. The initial audit in Melbourne, Docklands, Southbank, East Melbourne and Parkville, and
  2. A subsequent audit of 42 buildings across Melbourne connected to the builder of the Harvest Apartments in South Melbourne.

Key points

  • The VBA asked more than 20,000 Victorian building practitioners and registered architects to provide information about the use of aluminium composite panel cladding.
  • The VBA's audit is complex as it involves a thorough investigation based on multiple sources of information (including documents from builders, developers and building surveyors who, in some instances, have changed employers or no longer operate).
  • The audit revealed some buildings with non-compliant use of cladding, however only one building was judged by the local council's municipal building surveyor to have been an immediate threat to the safety of its occupants (Harvest Apartments - South Melbourne).
  • If the VBA concluded the use of cladding on a building was non-compliant, it was referred to the municipal building surveyor – who is responsible for assessing the threat to safety posed by buildings within their municipality.
  • The VBA and municipal building surveyors in each local council share the responsibility for assessing whether buildings comply with the National Construction Code.
  • Australia has a multi-layered approach to the design and construction of buildings. Requirements of the National Construction Code include:
    • limiting the distance between an apartment front door and an exit;
    • the use of automatic sprinklers in certain situations and alarm systems;
    • other fire safety measures such as fire hose reels and fire extinguishers;
    • occupant warning systems; and
    • the choice of building materials.
  • Some buildings in Melbourne still involve non-compliant use of cladding materials. The municipal building surveyor is responsible for assessing whether any of those buildings involve an immediate risk to the safety of occupants. The VBA is actively reviewing activities by registered building practitioners to bring these buildings into compliance.
  • The VBA does not have the power to physically remove cladding from buildings.
  • The VBA referred practitioners responsible for the Lacrosse Tower to the Building Practitioners Board for disciplinary proceedings. These matters are ongoing.
  • The VBA issued an industry alert in February 2016 to improve building practitioners' understanding of the National Construction Code requirements relating to the use of cladding. This was superseded by the Australian Building Codes Board Advisory Note.
  • People concerned about apartment buildings should contact their owners' corporation in the first instance.
  • Fire safety actions for residents, building owners, owners' corporations and facilities managers are outlined in the Victorian Cladding Taskforce's advisory note.

Who is involved and what are they responsible for

  • Australian Building Codes Board – updates and maintains the National Construction Code. The ABCB is undertaking several projects to review fire safety related provisions, including tests for determining combustible using external wall assemblies.
  • The relevant building surveyor – primarily responsible for ensuring that building work complies with the building legislation and National Construction Code.
  • Local council's municipal building surveyor – responsible for assessing the safety of the occupants of a building and enforcing compliance with the building legislation where appropriate.
  • The Victorian Building Authority – responsible for investigating the conduct of registered building practitioners and enforcing compliance with the building legislation where appropriate.
  • Fire services – delivers fire and emergency management services, and is a reporting authority in the building system. Proposed variations to fire services regulations require a consent from the relevant fire brigade.
  • Victorian Cladding Taskforce – the expert Taskforce has been created to consider the extent of non-compliant cladding on Victorian buildings. The Taskforce will, amongst other matters:
    • Review the audits conducted to date;
    • Develop an audit methodology for relevant buildings throughout Victoria;
    • Develop a process for rectification of buildings; and
    • Provide advice to the Minister for Planning and Government about how best to manage this issue going forward.