Is Australia At Risk Of Its Own London Fire?

London was engulfed in tragedy on Wednesday as a 24-storey apartment block went up in flames, killing multiple people and leaving others with injuries and trauma.

Media outlets around the globe have covered the situation since the beginning, speculating on the total number of dead and the real cause behind the inferno.

It has left Master Builders Queensland asking the question: Is Queensland, or Australia, at risk?

The Queensland construction industry association, referring to reports that external cladding could have contributed to the speed of the fire’s spread, pointed out that the problem of ‘non conforming building products’  is something that urgently needs to be addressed.

Master Builders Deputy CEO Paul Bidwell said the use of non-conforming products left people vulnerable to all sorts of ticking time bombs.

A prime example of this was the Infinity electrical cable situation, where after four years there is still 20,000 metres of dangerous cable in hundreds of homes across Queensland and even more nationally.

“Our members try their hardest to avoid these kinds of products, but when you have retailers and importers selling them it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between a legitimate product and one that shouldn’t be touched,” Mr Bidwell said.

“The state government has recently proposed action to crack down on these dodgy building products.

“But I would caution that we still have concerns about how it will work. These concerns will form part of our submission to the state government.”

Mr Bidwell said the Queensland Building Plan’s new laws to deal with non-conforming building products were a first step towards dealing with the problem.

“Everyone in the supply chain – from the manufacturer, importer, supplier and building designer – not just the builder or contractor, will now have responsibilities to ensure building products are safe and fit for purpose,” he said.

“This will require information to be provided about the product’s suitability and how it is to be used.”

Mr Bidwell said although it was proposed that all parties in the supply chain would now be responsible, it was not clear how the regulator (Queensland Building and Construction Commission) would determine who was accountable in the event of a building product failure.

There would be very significant fines for non-compliance – the maximum penalty under the new regime is more than $120,000.

The QBCC would also have extended powers to go where these products are sold to investigate and test samples, and the Minister would have the power to recall non-conforming building products.

Mr Bidwell said Master Builders has called for five years for the other parties in the supply chain to take responsibility for non-conforming products, however it was not yet clear how it would work, particularly where builders are required to provide information after a building had already been constructed.

Mr Bidwell said he was also concerned that the duplication of some requirements in the Work Health & Safety and Electrical Safety acts would create an unnecessary burden on building contractors.

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