Population growth in Australia has created more demand for accommodation. This has led to a boom in high-rise building construction. Unfortunately, this boom has created several safety concerns.
Up until 2009, the rate of apartment construction in Australia was quite flat. But the rate of building approval and construction has shot up in the years since. By 2015, apartments accounted for over 30% of all new building approvals.
Population growth has played a large role in this spike in apartment buildings. More people live in Australia’s capital cities than ever before, which is why the cost of units seems to be on the rise. This increased demand has created a boom period for the construction industry. High-rise buildings have shot up at an enormous rate, catering for population growth and migration. This also means that people have smaller living spaces.
Such rampant construction has the potential to create an array of issues. Construction companies are in a rush to get projects finished, which leads to oversights during construction. Furthermore, constant construction means there’s less time to focus on compliant building products. This could lead to low quality products entering into the supply chain.
This is not conjecture either. An array of news stories suggest that this high-rise boom has led to problems.
Faster construction rates give rise to several problems. These include the following:
- The use of non-compliant building products
- Oversights in designs and construction
- Fire safety concerns
- Spontaneous glass breakage
Each of these problems have manifested themselves in recent years. Let’s look at some examples of these issues that have made the news.
Issue #1 – Non-Compliant Building Products
The Australian Industry Group (AIG) recently carried out a survey across 220 businesses and leading figures from across the building industry.
Australia has strict building construction codes in place that ensure the quality of the components used in buildings. Yet most of those surveyed have come across non-compliant products (NCPs) in their work.
92% say that NCPs are a major problem in their sector. This covers fabrication, manufacturing, and construction. All have problems with NCPs, and all play a part in the construction of high-rise buildings.
This raises immediate concerns. What is even more worrying is the level of NCP market penetration. Some even believe that half of products used in the industry don’t meet compliance standards.
The problem arises when those in the industry fail to spot these NCPs. With poor regulation and enforcement allowing them to seep into the supply chain, it is up to the industry to police itself. It only takes one oversight to allow an NCP to slip through the cracks. When that happens, the entire project gets placed at risk. The NCP could be the reason why a sheet of glass shatters or an apartment building is more at risk of setting on fire.
Now, consider the increased speed of apartment construction in recent years. If NCPs are such a problem, hurrying building construction is not the solution – it only leads to even more potential for oversights.
Issue #2 – Rushed Designs
Rushing does not only affect those in the manufacturing and construction sectors – it also causes major problems for designers and architects. If they have to rush their work, they may overlook processes that cause problems.
At best, these oversights get caught during the construction process. They prevent the building from going up in the first place. This necessitates a redesign, which costs time and money. But, at least in this case the oversight does not cause any damage to people or property.
Oversights can lead to problems for the buildings later. For example, failure to protect against water seepage may not become an issue for several years. But it rears its head whenever a tropical cyclone occurs. There are many stories in the media about homes that could withstand the battering of the winds. Yet, they had design oversights that allowed water to seep into the property. This seepage did not damage the structure, but it caused thousands of dollars of property damage. Incorporating compliant windows in the design could have helped avoid this problem from the start.
Such problems occur at the design level. Rushed designers can’t account for everything because their minds are already moving onto the next project.
Issue #3 – Fire Safety Concerns
It’s the design oversights that go uncaught that present a bigger problem. Take the building fire that occurred at Docklands in Melbourne in 2014 as an example. The architects approved the use of standard-grade Alucobest cladding for the building. However, this form of cladding is actually non-compliant. It does not meet the combustibility criteria outlined in AS1530.1:1994.
The designers should have noticed this and instead use a fire-resistant cladding. Unfortunately, the design error went uncaught and the building eventually fell victim to a fire.
On the international level, the Grenfell Tower fire is one of the most prominent building disasters. That fire led to the deaths of over 70 people, with more people suffering from a slew of injuries.
It’s a major issue and it’s one that raises several questions. The AIG survey highlights how much NCPs have penetrated the Australian building sector.
How many more Australian high-rise buildings use non-compliant cladding? What can the industry do about it?
Unfortunately, there are not any easy answers. It’s almost impossible to know how many high-rise buildings have gone up during the boom that use insufficient cladding.
Issue #4 – Spontaneous Glass Breakage
A lesser known problem relates to the spontaneous shattering and falling of glass from high-rise buildings, perhaps from not using compliant windows in the construction and other forms of oversight.
There are several recent reports of this occurring. In May 2017, a panel fell from the Allianz Building in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). Luckily, the panel hit a gym and did not cause any severe injuries. But it is all too easy to think of the damage to human life that it could have caused.
Similar problems have affected a group of Melbourne apartments. Witnesses have reported seeing glass balconies shattering without reason. Again, they have yet to cause any injuries, but it seems like it is only a matter of time before glass breakage in apartments has a human cost.
Several issues can lead to spontaneous glass breakage. Poor testing of the thermal stress the glass can withstand is a leading cause, as well as minor damage during the manufacture and installation of glass panels. Even a tiny chip on the edge of a glass panel places undue stress on the panel, weakening the glass’ structural integrity until it eventually shatters.
Again, that brings us to the main problem. How many damaged panels of glass have construction crews installed during the high-rise boom? This faster rate of construction does not lend itself to close checks. And the fact that we are talking about spontaneous glass shattering at all shows that current regulations aren’t effective.
The Problem’s Scale
Any one of these issues presents a serious cause for concern in construction. However, it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that some high-rise buildings have a combination of these problems.
The combination of rushed work and the lack of compliant building products in the supply chain contribute. There also appears to be a lack of regulatory action that would help to solve the problem.
Problems With the Building Code
Several in the industry believe that Australia’s building codes are not up to the correct standard. More specifically, they note that regulators are not enforcing the code well enough.
It’s difficult to argue against this point. The sheer number of NCPs in the supply chain suggests that regulators are not doing enough to crack down on shoddy suppliers.
A report from the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia reflects the opinions of many. It said: “The system is there. However, regulators are not resourced and lack the will to act. The situation of non-compliant product is not taken seriously, and regulators do not act on complaints nor impose penalties.”
Other organisations note that chasing cheaper construction leads to shoddy products.
It seems that a problem with the building codes is to blame. However, enforcement of these codes is not at a high enough level to have an effect. The problem is that Australia’s population growth has led to more construction projects. If this lack of regulatory oversight was a problem before, it is now a major issue. After all, more construction means more NCPs slipping through the cracks.
That leads us to one question: What can the industry do about these problems?
At the immediate level, it seems like the industry needs stronger regulation and having building codes in place is only the first step. A lack of enforcement leads to the situation that we have now because of a lack of focus on quality and compliant building products. NCPs have gotten into the supply chain because of oversights at several levels. But it’s a lack of enforcement that has allowed it to keep happening. Less scrupulous companies provide and use NCPs safe in the knowledge that they’ll face little punishment.
It’s also possible that a slowdown in construction projects would help. Australia’s rapid population increases may not allow for this. However, there’s no denying that rushed work leads to oversights. You need only look at the glass shattering and cladding fire problems to see the results of rushing in action.
Finally, the onus may be on designers and construction crews to source quality products. For the time being, it seems like they cannot rely on regulators as much as they should be able to. This means they have to think more about the needs of the buildings and clients. Reliable window suppliers like Safetyline Jalousie create high quality products such as compliant windows that meet or exceed current standards. Using such suppliers, instead of going for the cheapest option, leads to savings in the long run. It ensures projects do not experience delays and creates happy clients and residents.
The high-rise boom is not necessarily a bad thing. It has likely created more jobs in the Australian building sector.
However, it’s clear that this rapid increase in work has created a number of new problems. Oversights at the design stage and the increasing surge of NCPs into the supply chain are an issue. So too is the lack of regulatory enforcement that should prevent this from happening.
You need to avoid all these problems, which means you need a reliable window supplier. That is where Safetyline Jalousie can help. If you are looking for compliant windows for a high-rise building, we recommend you do the following:
- Examine our louvre windows’ technical specifications.
- Learn more about our most recent projects.
- Contact a Safetyline Jalousie business manager to find out how we can help you with your next project.
1. The Growth of Apartment Construction in Australia – Reserve Bank of Australia
2. High-rise ‘time bomb’ warning prompts building safety audit in Melbourne CBD – ABC News
3. Fire safety in High Rise Buildings – ABCB