VBA’s first cladding audit

Scope

The VBA audited residential buildings of three or more stories in Melbourne, Docklands and Southbank, and other public buildings in East Melbourne and Parkville. The audit focused on buildings that provided accommodation for sleeping occupants, including vulnerable-use buildings such as hospitals. Typically, those buildings fall under the categories of classes 2, 3 and 9 of the National Construction Code. The scope included new buildings constructed between 1 January 2005 and 30 April 2015 with a construction value of $2 million or greater. These suburbs were assessed as having the most buildings in scope.

The 10-year window was the time when the use of aluminium composite panels as cladding became particularly prevalent in Victoria.

Process

The VBA audit involved the coercive acquisition and analysis of thousands of documents including:

  • Architectural designs and specifications;
  • Engineering designs, specifications and calculations;
  • Sub-contractor shop drawings;
  • Other documentation supporting the use of a product;
  • Building permits;
  • Occupancy permits; and
  • Other specifications.

A VBA inspector also visually inspected each site.

Where the VBA identified a non-compliant use of cladding, the role of the municipal building surveyor was to independently assess the building and then take any necessary steps to ensure the safety of occupants.

Due to the location of the buildings, this was primarily the City of Melbourne's municipal building surveyor.

Results of these actions have been progressively referred back to the VBA and published online.

To view the list and status of these buildings, click here.

Outcomes

The VBA took a deliberately conservative approach when assessing the use of cladding for compliance.

If the building practitioner failed to provide documents demonstrating the use of cladding complied with the National Construction Code, then the building was identified as non-compliant. 51 per cent of audited buildings were assessed as having a non-compliant use of cladding.

This figure was significantly reduced when additional documentation and/or fire safety engineering reports were provided. The VBA continues to work with the relevant builders and building surveyors to bring remaining buildings into compliance.

Buildings found to have a non-compliant use of cladding were referred to the council's municipal building surveyor. For the first audit, this was primarily the City of Melbourne's municipal building surveyor.

One of the roles of the municipal building surveyor is to assess each building from a safety perspective.

The municipal building surveyor has the power to issue a building notice, building order or emergency order which, in extreme cases may require an evacuation of the building. Once a building was declared 'safe to occupy' by the municipal building surveyor, it was referred back to the VBA with a view to achieving compliance.

The municipal building surveyor issued one emergency order – on the Harvest Apartments in Clarendon St, South Melbourne – which required the installation of smoke detectors and heat attenuation screens on windows. The emergency order was reported by The Age on 11 November 2015.

Several buildings remain with the City of Melbourne. The City of Melbourne, VBA and Metropolitan Fire Brigade are working together to resolve issues with these buildings.

The following actions are examples of how the use of cladding on a building can be brought into compliance:

  • Building work to remove combustible cladding;
  • Installation of additional fire safety measure such as sprinklers;
  • Providing a fire engineering report that has been independently peer reviewed by a third-party which demonstrates (to the satisfaction of the relevant building surveyor) that the use of cladding in the context of the building design should be considered compliant; and
  • Supply of supporting documentation, such as a CodeMark Certificate or fire testing report, to verify that the manner in which, and the type of cladding product used, complies with National Construction Code.