Cladding Up

Earlier this year (nearly four months ago!) I blogged about the dangers of cladding. More specifically, about the audit that Australian authorities have been conducting to ensure any cladding used in high-rise buildings is fire-retardant. In case you missed it, cladding is generally used on buildings to provide thermal insulation and weather resistance to a structure. It’s also sometimes used decoratively to improve the outer appearance of buildings. It can come in many forms, including Polyethylene/aluminium composite cladding (PE Cladding).

Cladding used on Australian buildings became a huge cause for concern after the deadly Grenfell Tower disaster. So it’s not surprising that many insurance companies are responding to the issue and updating their policies on composite cladding. MECON is one such example.

MECON are asking some tough questions. Who, if anyone, is legally liable for the presence of the PE cladding in a product? Would it be the PE cladding supplier, the building owner? Or would it be the specifier of the PE cladding: the architect, engineer or builder? In searching for answers, MECON likens the case of PE cladding to the case of asbestos cladding. In doing so, they’ve highlighted the key similarities and differences between the two cases.

Asbestos

Modern Cladding. Image: Pixabay

Similarities:

  • Both are stable themselves, but are potentially dangerous given the right circumstances.
  • Both were promoted and authorised for use as a building material.
  • Both were identified as dangerous before their use was restricted/banned.
  • Both were specified for use by a number of different entities in the construction (or supply) chain.
  • Both exist today in buildings, but that in itself has not triggered a legal obligation to remove it.

Differences:

  • The PE Cladding is flammable but asbestos is not.
  • Asbestos was manufactured in Australia but the PE Cladding was imported.
  • Asbestos is more of an OH&S issue than the PE Cladding.

Now that the potential dangers of PE cladding are known, says MECON, and the Government is potentially moving to ban and restrict use, these issues of liability will likely come into question. Stay tuned, folks, this one could get tricky.

Words by Skye Jamieson