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23 September 2015

Much has been written about the Lacrosse Docklands apartment fire in November 2014.

At Planned Cover we have been following the progress of this issue very closely and it appears at this stage that many questions still remain unanswered. What is known is that the specified cladding Alucobond was substituted with Alucobest.

This is not unusual as product substitutions are a normal part of construction. Properly managed, approved substitutions can result in a better project by lowering the construction cost or shortening the construction schedule.

You must however ensure that only substitutions that are for a legitimate cause are approved and when approving the substitution of any product (especially if its use is innovative or untested) you should:

    • Research your substituted product – as a minimum, read the technical data released by the manufacturer. Keep all relevant evidence in, or linked to, your project file. Keep good notes of any relevant conversations (e.g. with manufacturers), and consider confirming key points in an email.
    • Insist on seeing evidence of compliance with any Building Code of Australia (“BCA”) requirements. The manufacturer’s own testing should ordinarily be sufficient, except if a reasonable consultant would have cause to doubt its accuracy. Remember that overseas testing methods may not meet the requirements of the BCA (e.g. methods of testing slip resistance differ between countries). Insist on testing as per Australian requirements.
    • If a product which is integral to the design is beyond your expertise to research and form a view on, advise the Principal to engage an expert.

The MFB Post Incident Analysis Report of the Lacrosse Docklands apartment fire at page 89 quotes the BCA requirements for testing of products i.e. which bodies you can trust to do testing or certify products to provide evidence of suitability. In this regard, we recommend that if you are approving a substitution you obtain one or a combination of the following:
(i) A report issued by a Registered Testing Authority, showing that the material or form of construction has been submitted to the tests listed in the report, and setting out the results of those tests and any other relevant information that demonstrates its suitability for use in the building.
(ii) A current Certificate of Conformity or a current Certificate of Accreditation.
(iii) A certificate from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person which—
(A) certifies that a material, design, or form of construction complies with the requirements of the BCA; and
(B) sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant specifications, rules, codes of practice or other publications have been relied upon.
(iv) A current certificate issued by a product certification body that has been accredited by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ).
(v) *****
(vi) Any other form of documentary evidence that correctly describes the properties and performance of the material or form of construction and adequately demonstrates its suitability for use in the building.

The Victorian Building Authority in June 2015, in response to the Lacrosse Docklands apartment fire, issued an information sheet Suitability of materials for construction purposes. See following VBA information sheet

In summary, if approving substitution of a product, obtain confirmation of its compliance with the BCA, if possible obtain Australian testing as overseas manufacturers’ own testing may not meet BCA requirements and keep good records of all relevant information and documentation.

Adele Monaco
National Claims Manager
December 2015