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ACP cladding is ringing alarm bells

Buildings with Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) cladding can be dangerous. Panels often contain a polyethylene (PE) core that is highly flammable.

Why is ACP cladding considered a risk?

ACP cladding is a low-cost solution that has been used in new building projects for many middle and high-rise dwellings in Australia, over the last two decades. It's been used for various types of multiple storey buildings that are commonly residential or public buildings such as libraries and assembly venues. This cladding solution has proven to be a high fire risk and in some cases has caused catastrophic results and death.

Typically when cladding materials are used for building projects, it's for protection from the elements or noise or for decorative appeal. However, there is a cavity between the cladding and the wall for rain drainage.

In the event of a fire, this cavity draws up hot air like a chimney and can accelerate the vertical spread of fire. In addition, the cladding material itself may be combustible which increases the fire load. 

Two tragic examples of the damage and fatal impact of ACP cladding fires are the Grenfell Tower fire in London during 2017 and the Docklands fire in Melbourne, 2014.

What exactly is ACP cladding?

ACP cladding comes as panels and is made with polyethylene (PE) pressed between two aluminium sheets. PE is a thermoplastic material, and is often a main component in ACP cladding which can also include minerals such as magnesium hydroxide or aluminium hydroxide. According to a government safety alert: "When it burns, a kilogram of polyethylene will release more energy than a litre of petrol."

Builders are now receiving more information about the potential fire risks associated with the non-compliant use of ACP cladding and PE, when these are used in building construction.

ACP cladding has also been used for decorative external purposes and sometimes as a noise barrier. Australia's National Construction Code (the NCC) clearly sets out rules about how buildings should be constructed, and requires that external walls of buildings, three storeys and above, must be non-combustible and this includes cladding affixed to or forming part of an external wall. Click here for more information on construction planning. 

How do we know if ACP cladding is reliably certified as adequate and compliant with regulations?

We can't be certain that ACP cladding is okay, and fraudulent documentation has been called out as a significant issue within the building industry over the last decade. This issue was raised in Parliament by the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) who stated that they had identified 'incorrect, fraudulent or inadequate documentation and certificates of adequacy' as one of the potential reasons 'why non-compliant external wall cladding has been installed on so many buildings in Australia over the past 30 years'

How can I tell if my building is at risk?

There are 4 steps to identify risk:

  1. Identify at-risk property (2 storeys or higher and used for residential or for public assembly, and may be found, in some instances, in aged care facilities and schools)
  2. Identify at-risk materials (check if these buildings have metallic-style cladding on or within the property)
  3. Technical confirmation (if you ID your building to be at-risk, arrange a technical inspection that will confirm and assess the type of cladding material). 
  4. Report (inform relevant people such as property owner, State or Territory regulator) and inform your Customer Relationship Executive (CRE) if removal and remediation works are required after an audit

In response to the issues surrounding ACP cladding the Federal Government has now implemented:

  • A total ban (importation, sale and use) of aluminium composite panels with polyethylene core
  • A national licencing scheme for all building professionals
  • A national approach to increase accountability across the supply chain
  • Introduction of a penalties regime for non-compliant work

State Governments and building regulators have also conducted audits of buildings in all major cities, and are introducing legal reforms. Contact your State Government to find out about the latest developments, and whether there is a Cladding Taskforce Advisory body in your state.

What should I do if my building has ACP cladding risks?

  1. Conduct a fire safety inspection of your building, by an engineer or fire safety expert. Ensure your inspection is carried out by somebody who is qualified to look at any external wall cladding and provide maintenance or revisions to the building's fire safety. They should provide a detailed report that follows Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) protocol
  2. Develop and implement a plan to rectify non-conforming ACP cladding with a professional, if your building has unsuitable external material.
  3. Seek legal advice to determine who is responsible for the costs of repair/replacement/rectification.
  4. Finding out more about the risk of ACP cladding is your next step to managing the safety of your building.
  5. Contact CCI's Risk team if you have any questions on 1300 660 827.

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