After another New South Wales apartment complex had to be evacuated due to cracking, industry bodies are renewing calls for better regulation and registration of those involved in building compliance and certification.
Residents of an apartment tower in the inner-south Sydney suburb of Mascot were evacuated Friday night over fears that widening cracks posed a safety threat to residents.
“Ongoing and persistent” cracking in the primary support structure and façade masonry prompted temporary structural supports to be erected Thursday night as a precaution. However, by Friday night, engineers raised concerns about cracking in the transfer slab beams supporting the primary building corner, which led to a complete evacuation of the Mascot Towers complex.
Engineers are still working to determine the exact cause of the cracking. A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday that there had been “identifiable movements in the basement area” of the building, potentially related to works happening nearby.
Story in miniature
Although the exact cause of the Mascot Towers damage is still under investigation, this is just the latest in a string of incidents that expose the wider regulation issues plaguing the building industry.
Six months ago, residents of Sydney’s Opal Tower apartment complex were evacuated due to cracking and reports of movement. A final investigation found the hob beam and panel assembly that caused the cracks did not meet design requirements outlined in the National Construction Code or the Australian Standard for Concrete Structures.
Shortly after Opal Tower, the NSW Government said it would tighten regulation of building certifiers. NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the government is committed to restoring confidence in the building and construction industry. This includes appointing a Building Commissioner and introducing a “suite of reforms” aimed at bringing transparency, accountability and quality control to the construction and building sectors. However, little progress has been made on delivering these changes.
This is despite clear recommendations available in two industry-endorsed reports: the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence report and the final Opal Tower investigation report.
The first recommendation in both reports is for the government to establish registration of building practitioners and engineers in partnership with an appropriate professional body.
Engineers Australia National Manager for Public Affairs Jonathan Russell said his organisation is ready to work with the NSW Government to implement these recommendations to restore public trust in the building industry.
“It doesn’t matter what the true cause of the Mascot Towers cracks is, because it’s a systemic problem. It’s a problem with the system that allows for these problems with combustible cladding, or shifting, or cracking to occur,” Russell said.
“Opal Tower should have been the wakeup call. This incident with Mascot Towers is a reminder that we need to get on with implementing the recommendations in the Shergold-Weir report and the Opal Tower findings.”
Engineers Australia has previously reached out to Anderson to offer support and assistance with implementing a registration scheme. Russell said the organisation will follow up in light of what has happened with Mascot Towers.
Chris Knierim, President of the Building Designers Association of Australia, said reform is on the horizon because “it actually needs to happen”.
“We can’t sit back and remain going in the same direction. We want to ensure everybody is safe and these buildings themselves are also safe,” he said.
Knierim also drew on the Shergold-Weir report’s recommendations as a playbook for the building industry to follow.
“In that report there were 24 recommendations for the construction industry, and recommendation number one was … registration of all building practitioners — engineers, architects, building designers and so on,” he said.
“This is a key point that should be put through because it’s making these people accountable. Consumers need to be confident in the sector, and to do this we need to make sure we have people accountable for their actions.”
Russell said ultimately every recommendation in the Shergold-Weir and Opal Tower reports should be implemented, but registration is the clear starting point.
“We are not saying this particular incident is an engineer’s fault, we are not saying registration will fix everything, but this is clearly a systemic problem that Engineers Australia is looking to help solve,” he said.
“[Engineers Australia] fully expects to work closely with the government to implement a NSW registration scheme.”