Dangers of ‘sick-building syndrome’
THE term "sick-building syndrome" has been thrust into the spotlight this week, though many of us have never heard it before.
There are claims structures are crumbling everywhere in our rapidly developing cities.
Experts have come out this week saying the Opal Tower that cracked in Sydney on Christmas Eve is part of a much wider problem in the building industry.
Buildings in Sydney's west, and one in the ACT, are among many said to have defects that have slowly appeared over several years.
New South Wales opposition leader Michael Daley on Friday called for warranties for defects to be extended after the government slashed them from seven two years.
"If issues become apparent in three years residents have to suck it up," he said.
"It shouldn't happen. (Buying a property) is the biggest investment you'll ever make and you're saddled with the burden for 30 years. For someone to say bad luck, you don't have any redress, I think that's wrong."
Experts say speedy development approvals and hasty construction have left buildings not meeting standards and passing checks too easily.
They say the major problem is self-certification - and even yesterday it was revealed
the director of the company that oversaw the certification of the Opal Tower had been disciplined by the building watchdog before.
Judgment records show McKenzie Group director Mark Cogo was slapped with two fines, a reprimand and three cautions by the Building Professionals Board between 2004 and 2009.
It comes after a recent report from the NSW government warned there were community concerns about private certifiers being unduly influenced by the builders and developers they work for, given the certifier is being paid by the same party they are supposed to independently oversee.
In order to become a private certifier in NSW, applicants must apply to the Building Professionals Board and meet criteria set out in the board's accreditation scheme.
The independent certification industry was deregulated by the Labor government in the 1990s.
But Opal Tower's developer Ecove has repeatedly defended the building's quality this week, saying it is of one of the highest standards in Australia.
"I can't speak for other buildings but Australia's building code is probably one of the best in the world," he said.
"We like to think we have set a good, high quality benchmark for the industry."
A 2012 report by UNSW found that 85 per cent of Sydney apartments built since 2000 have major defects while another in 2015 said the average cost of fixing faults in new apartments was 27 per cent of the original construction cost.
An interview between Martin North of Digital Finance Analytics and Edwin Almeida of Property Insider this week details sick-building syndrome, an issue Mr Almeida said he raised the alarm on weeks ago.
"Let's get straight to the point, although (Opal Tower) made national and international headlines, there are a lot of others that are currently undergoing rectification and have been undergoing rectification for the last six to 12 months," he said.
"They're not even occupied and they're already starting to have issues."
Mr Almeida said crumbling buildings were "no longer a potential".
"Private certification is failing in many ways," he said.
"The banks' loose money policy has allowed developers to obtain these, almost free grants in a way. They're just handed money to build these monstrosities.
"They do comply with the building codes but unfortunately the building codes haven't been updated since the mid-80s.
"As I've said over and over again, they are under-engineered."
Mr Almeida said it was only the sores you saw that signalled a deeper infection at the crux of issue.
The pair said this week's saga should be a wake up call for the industry, government, investors and owners.
They said the government would be at panic stations if investigators went further afield than the Opal Tower, with specialists sent in to help on-site engineers this week.
Developer Ecove and builder Icon are still at a loss over what's caused the precast panel on the 10th floor to crack, saying the manufacturer had stringent checks in place.
One man said he had been driving a crane in Sydney for 11 years and believed the level of construction was poor.
He said at one new apartment building in the CBD workers were loading up newly poured concrete slabs with tonnes of formwork.
"Many buildings are precast concrete slab construction and when the slabs arrive on the trucks the concrete will still be green and not cured properly," he said.
"A lot of the time when the first slab of concrete is poured onto the excavation it's obvious that the waterproofing layer is not working properly and concrete will be poured whether the place is covered in water, there are puddles everywhere or it's raining."
Another insider named Steve who worked in the precast concrete panel industry for a decade said he left the work because he was disappointed in standards.
"Having a panel returned due to a defect was a very rare occurrence," he said.
"This contrasts considerably with what I found in Sydney. I saw a lot of substandard work being sent out to customers.
"The customer would be unaware of the faults in the panel once the concrete had been poured.
"The main focus of these companies was to produce as many panels as possible in the shortest time, using the least amount of materials as they could get away with to maximise their profit margin."
"After witnessing the quality of work, I left this industry for good."