Issues in Commercial Buildings: Risks and Challenges for High-rise Residential Complexes

During the first round of concurrent sessions on day two of the Convention, Board Director Nick Cook facilitated a panel discussion on “Issues in Commercial Buildings: Risks and Challenges for High-rise Residential Complexes”.

The expert panel included, Michael Wilbers, State Manager of Body Corporate Brokers, Michael Giansiracusa, CEO of Whitbread Insurance Group, Cristian Martinez, Senior Account Engineer at AIG and Scott Shackel, Senior Field Engineer at AIG.

Aluminium composite panelling (ACP) was a hot topic for discussion. Giansiracusa said, for a long time you could place strata insurance off five or six questions and a bit of claims history, “When the focus changed to insurers wanting to engage further than observations, it was a real hard sell to then go back to the strata managers and through the committees and actually talk to them about duty of disclosure etc.

“I think the managers have handled it pretty well, because it’s a scary issue for them to be involved in, because they’ve got their own concerns and they’re worried about carers liability.

“As we know with PI Insurance, there are a lot of exclusions around cladding that are coming in, and they’re [strata managers] just concerned about the cover that they may or may not have, whilst they’re trying to project manage or coordinate a response,” he added.

Shackel said there are a multitude of ACPs on the market from a number of different manufacturers, most of which look very similar, which can make it very difficult to assess on site. “The first step is assessing what you’ve got, and then looking at the risks beyond that,” he said.

It’s not just ACP – according to Martinez, there are new materials out there, timber composite panels, for example, going up on the façade and other parts of buildings. “That is the real difficulty for us, trying to come to a reasonable conclusion as to how a fire protection system is going to work with plastics contributing to a fire scenario,” he explained.

Looking beyond composite panels, the experts considered other challenges, including building standards. Wilbers referenced a study recently carried out by Deakin University’s Nicole Johnston and Griffith University’s Sacha Reid. “People have this perception that Australia has rigorous building codes and building standards, but the issue is that they are not being enforced,” said Associate Professor Reid in the study.

Wilbers said, of the properties that had been surveyed in NSW, “97 per cent had defects”.

The NSW government recently announced some proposed reforms to the registration of engineers involved in building work. The engineers’ professional body, Engineers Australia, has strongly criticised the proposed reforms as being seriously inadequate.

NIBA has confirmed that it is monitoring developments and will continue to support and assist the work of governments and that it looks like things are not going to get better any time soon.

For our previous coverage on this issue please click here, here, here, here and here.