Recent multi-level building fires in Australia such as Melbourne’s Lacrosse building and the tragic Grenfell Tower fire overseas have resulted in Federal and State governments inquiring into the potential exposure for buildings in relation to non-conforming and non-compliant building products. Governments are particularly focused on the potential exposure caused by inappropriate use of some types of aluminium composite panels.
Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) cladding has been used on the exterior of buildings for more than 30 years. If the cladding is combustible, fire can spread rapidly on the exterior of the building and represent a significant risk to occupants and property.
A recent report from the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) noted that insurers are providing policy cover for buildings, and premiums are set according to the residual risk (after any effective risk mitigation is considered) of damage occurring and a claim being made against the policy. The higher the probability of a damaging event occurring, the higher the premium.
Through the ICA, insurers have agreed upon a Residual Hazard Identification Protocol for the identification of residual risk presented by the use of this building material. The following list outlines some of the key risk factors that should be considered when evaluating the level of risk:
- The composition and combustibility of the ACP core material;
- The building height and occupancy;
- The amount of ACP cladding and its location on the building;
- The extent of continuous vertical sections of ACP cladding on the building;
- The type of substrate and/or insulation located behind the ACP;
- Proximity of ACPs to balconies and other potential fi re ignition sources;
- Installed building fire protection and fire detection systems;
- The Fire Resistance Level as defined in the Building Code of Australia of the building construction and fire compartments;
- The distance from nearby buildings not protected by fire sprinkler systems;
- Installed building emergency warning systems and fire exits; and
- If the building design is based on Alternative Solution provisions of the Building Code of Australia by a fire safety engineer.
Identification of materials
The identification of Aluminium Composite Panels is the critical first step in the process of identifying the potential hazard to life and property presented by the ACP. It must be undertaken with an almost 100 per cent confidence of the results.
The primary purpose is to accurately classify and quantify the materials present in order to determine the fire load along with its location and proximity to ignition sources.
Fire Risk Considerations
The risk factors noted previously can influence the rate and extent of fire spread. A rapidly spreading external fire increases the likelihood of major building damage and can impact of the safe evacuation of building occupants.
Continuous sections of combustible Aluminium Composite Panels provide a pathway for external fire spread. In addition to combustible ACP cladding, combustible insulation materials located behind the ACP add to fire load and can increase fire intensity.
Fire sprinklers systems for residential buildings, offices, educational institutions, hotels and hospitals are typically designed to operate over a relatively small area. For residential buildings, the design can be based on as little as 4 sprinklers operating.
Remedial actions (if any are required) will be different from building to building and dependent on the category of ACP and insulation installed. Depending on the quantity of ACP installed, its configuration and installation, there is the potential for actions to be taken that would not necessarily involve 100 per cent replacement.
Inspections, assessments and reports commissioned by a building owner to determine the risk associated with the presence of ACPs on a building should be carried out by competent fire protection professionals and including fire safety engineers.
A consistent methodology able to be accepted by the broadest possible regime of underwriters and other building professionals is essential.
If you have any questions on the potential exposures your building may have to Aluminium Composite Panels, contact your Account Manager today.