Safety of high-rise apartments in Sydney under cloud as new fire safety laws being introduced

The NSW, Australia, government will announce fire safety laws soon giving officials broad power to identify unsafe building materials and ban them, after fears that dozens of apartment blocks could be encased in flammable material. Corporate builders caught knowingly using unsafe materials, including highly flammable aluminium cladding, will face fines of up to $1 million as a result of laws to be introduced in Parliament.

“These new laws will make it easier for us to inspect and to pinpoint exactly where unsafe cladding is on high-rise residential buildings,” Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean said.
Unsafe aluminum cladding, which experts say is difficult to distinguish from safe varieties, has been linked to several fatal apartment fires, including London’s recent Grenfell inferno that claimed 80 lives.

The government’s legislation does not outlaw any specific building materials; instead it gives the fair trading commissioner the power to identify unsafe materials and to ban their use. Councils will be given new powers to force existing unsafe buildings to be repaired. “These are broad powers,” Mr Kean said. “We will throw the book at anyone who is found to have breached these new laws.” The department will be able to interrogate suppliers and builders, compel documents and test all building materials, including cladding, to determine its list of banned products. Failure to co-operate will be a criminal offence.

The prevalence of unsafe building materials has been a major issue as Sydney undergoes a record sustained apartment boom. Buildings identified as potentially unsafe will be referred to local councils for further inspection. The laws will not be retrospective. Companies that continue to use a banned product will be liable to fines of up to $1.1 million. There will be fines of up to $220,000 for individuals.