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Certifiers cry foul over flammable ACP insurance exclusion - commentary by Andy McCourt 

This publication is in receipt of a Media Release issued by the Association of Accredited Certifiers (AAC), reproduced in full below. It concerns the growing issue of the use of combustible, sign-grade ACP (Aluminium Composite Panels) as cladding on high-rise buildings.

Grenfell aflame
 Grenfell aflame - this is what can happen when non-fire resistant ACP is used as cladding (The Guardian)

While the ‘eight-point plan’ outlined at the end of the release is commendable, we must take issue with the scaremongering and lack of acknowledgement of past accountability displayed in this ‘cop-out’ piece of attempted media spin.

McCourt web
            Andy McCourt

To say that “…the construction industry will grind to a halt if the problem (of indemnity insurance for certifiers) is not addressed” is misleading and frankly, holding a gun to everyone’s head in NSW – whether homes, apartments or offices, certification is an essential part of construction.

The indications following recent fires (mostly in Victoria) and the awful Grenfell Tower inferno in London where 72 innocent people lost their lives due to flammable cladding, are that certifiers failed in their duties. Certification is impotent without verification – if a correct cladding product is specified, certifiers must ensure that it is not substituted and do spot checks. If specification is simply ‘ACP cladding’ – it must be changed to ‘fire-resistant grade ACP in compliance with <building code or ASA spec>.’

My father was an inspector and certifier of sensitive electronic equipment for the British Ministry of Defence, destined for Navy warships. He once rejected a multi-million pound run of electrical motors made by a global electronics manufacturer. The stink went all the way up to the House of Lords as the Chairman was a Peer. He would not budge with the simple explanation: “I can not put servicemen’s lives at risk and these motors/control systems are a fire risk.” They never went on a Royal Navy vessel; the entire run was re-manufactured with appropriate insulation.

Incendiary time-bombs

Thus, with Australia peppered with hundreds of buildings like ticking incendiary time-bombs due to inappropriate use of non-architectural ACP cladding; where did the certification process go wrong? And, how dare you, the AAC try to blackmail the whole state of NSW by saying our construction industry will collapse if some insurance companies exclude combustible cladding from Professional Indemnity insurance? IT SHOULD NOT BE ON BUILDINGS IN THE FIRST PLACE!

We drive modern cars that are incredibly safe and yet, when Takata airbags proved unsafe, an industry-wide recall got underway and suspect airbags replaced at no cost to the consumer. People are living in, or staying in, apartments that are unsafe due to the misuse of sign-grade cladding on the exterior – because it’s cheaper. Even if the substitution was surreptitious by unscrupulous builders or project managers, the final buck stops with certifiers to check that the actual product on the outside of building is something they signed-off on.

Sign grade ACP is a terrific material – for signage. [Although I have seen fire-resistant ACP signage in National Parks – well done!] Fire resistant ACP grades (at least 90% mineral content in the ‘sandwich’) are stringently tested by firms like 3A Composites and Mitsubishi and ample documentation is available on their use and compliance. It’s certifiers’ jobs to know this and be immovable on the use of anything that doesn’t comply. And to verify.

In the UAE, where there have been numerous tall building fires accelerated by combustible cladding, it is estimated that there are 30,000 buildings that have been built clad in the lethal material. One building caught fire twice, while it was being repaired from the first fire. Suppliers say there has been ‘virtually zero demand’ for the fire-resistant grades of ACP in the UAE until recent new building codes were introduced.

But this is Australia and New Zealand, and we’re supposed to be the safest countries in the world – there is no excuse for buildings to be clad in flammable ACP – none whatsoever.

So my advice to certifiers and the AAC is ‘do your job’ and stop bleating that, so far just one, insurance company has excluded combustible cladding from its PI insurance policies. Change insurance companies, self-insure or quit and take up a Jim’s Mowing franchise (fully insured) but if you did your job properly in the first place there would not be a single PE-cored flammable ACP panel on any building in Australia or New Zealand.

And your so-called ‘warning’ that the construction industry will ‘grind to a halt’ if your cop-out whims are not addressed is nothing but…pathetic.

- Andy McCourt, publisher Wide Format Online

Footnote: Private and contract certifiers operate under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 and their statutory functions include: conducting critical stage inspections and issuing certificates; taking steps to address non-compliance, including reporting non-compliance to the appropriate authority.

 

 Here is the full AAC media release:

aac 

 

 

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

CERTIFIERS WARN OF SIGNIFICANT GROWING RISK TO NSW CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY OVER INSURANCE VOID

Accredited certifiers are warning of significant and growing risks to the NSW construction industry if Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance policies cannot be secured.

The warning comes as insurance brokers, Bovill Risk and Insurance Consultants have advised that a major insurer of hundreds of certifying firms would no longer be offering PI insurance policies free of exclusions in relation to combustible cladding.

For accredited certifiers to maintain their registration, the law in NSW states that they must hold PI insurance policies free of exclusions.

Association of Accredited Certifiers (AAC) CEO, Jill Brookfield said the construction industry will grind to a halt if the problem is not addressed.

“Insurers are now shying away from offering insurance cover for cladding to accreditedcertifiers and fire engineers,” Ms Brookfield said.

“If accredited certifiers cannot get insurance, they will be unable to maintain their accreditation and projects will not be able to get a building approval, which will result in the industry grinding to a halt.

The overwhelming majority of homes and buildings constructed in NSW use accredited certifiers in the private sector.

“The industry is facing a crisis and this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency – this is not just an issue which will impact accredited certifiers but one that will impact the entire industry.

The AAC is urging the NSW Government to act decisively and work to encourage more insurers into the market.

“We have been highlighting this issue with the NSW Government for two years – this issuecannot wait any longer to be addressed,” Ms Brookfield said.

To date, the Building Ministers Forum (BFM), has not done enough to address this issue urgent action from government is needed. The industry, builders and owners can’t wait for anational solution.

“The Building Professionals Board must articulate a plan for the likely eventuality thatcompliant insurance will shortly not be available for any construction professionals,including accredited certifiers.”

The AAC recently released an eight-point plan to improve accountability in the construction sector in NSW, which includes:

* All professionals involved in the design, installation and approvals process must be accredited and insured.

* All key personnel in the process who are not accredited must be licensed and be required to prove their competency at regular intervals.

* All documents related to the certification of a building should be in a standard form developed by industry and Government.

* All persons involved in the certification of any engineering design or technical aspect of construction must issue a certificate on a standard form.

* Comprehensive auditing of all accredited or licensed persons.

* All parties involved in the building product supply chain need to be accountable for the products they prescribe, specify, purchase and use.

* Amend the BASIX scheme to allow applicants to design buildings based on predetermined standards.

* Strengthen the administration of building regulation in NSW by bringing building regulations and control functions into one portfolio, reporting to one Minister.

To find out more about the role of Accredited Certifiers and AAC, visit: www.accreditedcertifiers.com.au