Combustible cladding, similar to Grenfell Tower inferno, found on John Hunter Hospital

By , 17/12/2018 16:21

AUDIT ALARM: Work will begin soon to strip the dangerous cladding from the Royal Newcastle Centre at John Hunter Hospital. Picture (left): Simone De Peak. Picture (right): AP Photo/Frank Augstein FLAMMABLE cladding similar to what fuelledLondon’s Grenfell Towerinferno has been found onthe John Hunter Hospital.

The Newcastle Herald can reveal the combustible cladding on the region’s largest hospital was detected during a state-wide audit carried out by theNSW Government Cladding Taskforce and Health Infrastructure.

Work is due to begin stripping the cladding from the Royal Newcastle Centreand the Clinical Skills Training Centreat John Hunter Hospital in the coming months.

It’s understood the project, that will see the cladding replaced witha safer product, will cost more than $10 million.

Highly flammable polyethylene cladding has been used on thousands of n buildings in the past two decades.

A Health Infrastructure spokeswoman said a “preliminary review” of Hunter New England Health assets revealed problems in Newcastle and Armidale.

“Interim safety measures have been put in place at John Hunter Hospital and Armidale Hospital until the cladding has been removed,” she said. “Hunter New England Health has evacuation procedures in place and is liaising closely with emergency response services.”

RELATED:London tower was ‘burning like paper’

The audit wasin response to London’s Grenfell Tower inferno in June, which killed 71 people, as well as the Victorian Lacrosse building fire at Docklands in 2014, which tore through 13 floors in 11 minutes. Both were fuelled by thecladding.

It’s understood work on the $100 million Royal Newcastle Centre, that openedon the hospital campus in 2006, will begin first.

The centre housesmany health services previously availableat its namesake–the 189-year-old Royal Newcastle Hospital –and provides specialist, diagnostic and outpatient services for the Hunter and much of the state’s north.

AUDIT ALARM: Work will begin soon to strip the dangerous cladding from the Royal Newcastle Centre at John Hunter Hospital. Picture: Simone De Peak

It has five operating theatres,in-patient ward beds andprocedural beds.

The Clinical Skills building is on the western side of the John Hunter Hospital and is used foreducatingmedical, surgical and nursing staff.

In additional to training rooms, it also hasalecture theatre.

Health Infrastructure’s spokeswoman said independent fire safety experts werefinalising detailed reviews of the two buildings.

“Once this has been complete, a full scope of works and estimated total costcan be determined,” she said.

Problems arise whenbuildings are clad in either highly combustible aluminium composite panels, or expanded polystyrene that melts or ignites when exposed to an open flame.

In December, the NSW cladding taskforce revealed there were 1184 buildingsacross the state suspected of having the cladding.

WARNING: Video contains disturbing contentAbout 220 of these, including 58 high-rise residential buildings, had enoughcladding or in a configuration that meant they requiredfurther assessment.

A Victorian taskforce found in Decemberthat three factors had led to the proliferation of dangerous cladding in since the 1990s: the use of the wrong building materials, the industry’s poor culture, and the failure of regulators.

Too often unsuitable materials were substituted on buildings between planning approval being granted and construction commencing, it found.

And those breaking the rules faced little or no risk of being caught –or of being punished if they were caught.

Health Infrastructure’s chief executive Sam Sangster said there would be minimal impact to patients, staff and visitors at John Hunter Hospital during the remediation works.

The Clinical Skills Building at John Hunter. Picture: Simone De Peak.

Hospital operations would not be disrupted.

“Health Infrastructure has undertaken an extensive amount of work to ensure our methodology and approach is thorough, and we assess each and every building on the asset management register,” he said.

Work is already underway to remove flammable cladding from the $8million chemotherapy and ambulatory care building at Armidale Hospital that opened in 2014.

Under new laws introduced in NSW late lastyear, buildersand developers who use dodgy products – including flammable cladding – will be hit with fines of more than$1 million.

Individuals who flout the new rules will be hit with fines of more than $200,000.

The government’s legislation does not outlaw any specific building materials; instead it gives the fair trading commissioner the power to identify unsafe materials and to ban their use.

The Grenfell Tower

Councils will be given new powers to force existing unsafe buildings to be repaired.

“Fair trading will have broad powers to assess products as they come into the marketplace and use those powers to ban them if they are unsafe or dangerous when used inappropriately,” Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean said.

The laws also give the government power to compel documents about dodgy products from suppliers, manufacturers and builders so they can track where the products have been used.

Failure to co-operate will be a criminal offence.

Experts say detecting flammable cladding from legitimate fire-resistant kinds is complicated because externally the two appear the same.

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