By Insurance House Melbourne Manager Corporate and Commercial Broking, Rob Currenti
Combustible cladding has featured widely in recent news headlines following the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower in London where fire quickly engulfed the 24 storey building. While an investigation is still underway into the factors surrounding the fire, many believe the ferocity of the fire was due to its exterior cladding.
In Australia, approximately 10,000 high and medium buildings like the LaCrosse Tower in Docklands use cladding – and there are several different types of cladding which can have many different uses, with some highly combustible, while others pose little risk.
Combustible cladding is made from two metal outer facings or skin bonded together by a core which is usually made from a highly-insulating material. It is generally used by builders and architects because it’s an inexpensive, quick and efficient material to enhance the overall appearance of the building, and improve energy efficiency.
A recent Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products in Australia demanded a specific type of cladding – polyethylene cladding – be banned and builders immediately cease using the product.
If you aren’t aware of the type of cladding on your building, there are a few different ways you can find out.
We suggest the following steps:
- Contact the original builder to find the original specifications that stipulate the manufacturer and the model of the panel installed, as well as any cross-sectional drawings of the cladding system including insulation, cavities, fixing members etc. Supply any accreditations, fire test results, determinations (for compliance with Australian Standards or the National building code of Australia) for the cladding itself & the cladding system.
- Alternatively, we suggest contacting the CSIRO Fire Engineering Team who are equipped to conduct XRD (X-Ray Deflection) and TGA (Thermogravimetric Analysis) tests. This will involve the removal of a 100mm X 100mm section from the facility for testing.
There are several different types of cladding which actually are accepted by Australian building regulations, in particular, Expanded Polystyrene or EPS. EPS is widely used in commercial properties like pharmaceutical factories, laboratories and food processing plants all across Australia.
For commercial purposes, EPS is normally used as cladding for internal walls. It’s favoured because of its ability achieve reliable temperatures, it’s quick and easy to install, it’s hygienic, can be easily maintained, and is an economical alternative to other materials.
What are the risks of EPS?
Contrary to what the media is reporting, the chance of a fire starting when using EPS isn’t any higher – however, the risk of the fire spreading is. It’s important to be aware of the risks your business may be exposed to when using such a material. Some risks to consider include:
- The polystyrene center is highly flammable and combustible
- The joints of the EPS panels may buckle under the heat, exposing the flammable material causing fire to spread quickly
- EPS can burn at temperatures below a fully developed fire, therefore, contributing to fire spread
- Extinguishing the fire can prove difficult as fire can be hidden within the panels
- When burning, EPS emits a toxic black smoke
How to minimise your risks when using EPS
There are a few steps you can take to minimise the risks to your business, and your employees:
- Ensure your risk management plan is updated and ready to action
- Educate management and staff members and ensure they understand the potential risks involved with EPS
- Keep up regular building inspections and repair damaged insulation panels quickly
- Implement strict housekeeping rules such as proper storage of other combustible materials
- Reinforce the importance of housekeeping across the business
When it comes to insurance, disclosure is key
You should be aware that not all insurers will cover the use of EPS and in most cases; there will be strict underwriting rules, guidelines and risk control measures. From an insurance point of view, the main issue when using EPS is disclosure. Your insurer needs to know this is a potential issue for your business, and will therefore charge an appropriate premium that will allow for a greater loss in the event a fire does start.
Additionally, you will need to ensure that EPS is built in a compliant manner, demonstrate the maintenance of a good standard of fire safety management, and ensure you are proactive at minimising your own risks, rather than solely relying on insurance. By doing this, your likelihood of being insured is high. And if you follow best practice when using the material, you may even bring your premium down.
To get in touch with Rob Currenti or a member of the Insurance House team contact us on 1300 305 834 or email firstname.lastname@example.org