Exploding glass balconies in Melbourne apartments expose faulty building products
02 July 2017
A frightening series of "spontaneous" glass balcony explosions at
Melbourne apartment buildings has highlighted the dangers of cheap and
faulty construction products flooding into Australia.
Video footage obtained by Fairfax Media has captured two extraordinary
explosions in recent months, where glass panels on the outside of an
inner-city tower suddenly shattered.
The falling shards missed passing pedestrians by just a few metres.
The failures are suspected to be cases of spontaneous glass breakage
linked to poor manufacturing. It is thought the balcony balustrades
contain nickel sulfide, which can cause glass to fail when exposed to
extreme temperature change, wind or other stresses.
It is also a startling example of growing issue of poor quality
building materials making their way into Australia on shipping
containers, unchecked, before being installed in homes and on buildings
– in some cases threatening lives and property.
"It's a huge problem and more than we know about it," said the chief
executive of the Australian Window Association, Tracey Gramlick.
Ms Gramlick said the prevalence of building products that did not meet
Australian standards, combined with poor workmanship and installation,
meant many buildings would have to undergo repairs in years to come.
The Housing Industry Association said the majority of building products
entering the country were not being tested by customs officials to
ensure they complied with Australian standards.
Balconies in this Melbourne apartment building have been patched up
with wood following multiple glass explosions. Photo: Joe Armao
Other products, including materials laced with asbestos, are arriving with fraudulent compliance certificates.
While spontaneous glass breakage is thought to be rare, Fairfax Media
has been made aware of at least three buildings in Melbourne where a
number of explosions have occurred.
Construction law expert, Andrew Whitelaw, said a builder was recently
forced to replace a number of glass balustrades on a residential tower
in Melbourne's CBD due to the discovery of nickel sulfide impurities.
"If there is too much nickel sulfide in the mix, then extreme changes
in temperature can cause the glass to have a pressure point and fail,"
said Mr Whitelaw, a partner at TressCox Lawyers.
There have also been two separate explosions in recent months at an
inner-city apartment tower. Both incidents were caught on camera and
show that if the glass had shattered just a few seconds later,
pedestrians would have been walking directly underneath.
The company investigating the cause of the explosions, Roscon, believe
the builder may have been given certificates by the manufacturer
falsely claiming the glass underwent a heat soaking process to remove
the nickel sulfide.
The result of a suspected balcony explosion.
Roscon's national general manager, Sahil Bhasin, said a heating process
is meant to break any glass with nickel sulfide it in before it is sent
out to the marketplace.
"That's the preferred option – to bust in an oven in China – rather than to be put up on building facades," Mr Bhasin said.
"But sometimes we are finding these processes are being cut out, maybe to save money."
Mr Bhasin said there were also three separate glass balcony explosions
at a multi-storey apartment in Malvern late last year, and in that case
the builder could not provide any documents showing compliance with
He said when he approached glass manufacturers for testing data they
often provided certificates that appeared to be falsified, because the
date on the document was the date they asked for the data, months or
years after the glass was actually manufactured.
"They are just issuing certificates willy nilly," Mr Bhasin said.
There is evidence substandard building products are rife throughout the
construction industry. A 2015 survey of 739 builders and trade
contractors by the Housing Industry Association found more than 30 per
cent had to replace building products used in their projects because
they had failed.
Consumer Affairs Victoria received 771 complaints and enquiries about
"major failures" of or defects in building goods in the last six months
The Housing Industry Association said fraudulent certification had been
discovered with plumbing, electrical fittings, window, engineered wood
and steel products. But building products were rarely tested by customs
when entering the country, the association said.
The Housing Industry Association's chief executive of industry policy,
Kristin Brookfield, said she advised her members to check for spelling
mistakes and "photocopies of photocopies" as signs compliance
certificates may have been falsified.
A new concern is the presence of asbestos in construction materials,
including plasterboard, that has been declared "asbestos free" by
manufacturers in China.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it did not
have "a legislated role" to check imported building products conform to
However Border Force has been proactively targeting the importation of
asbestos and has made four discoveries of asbestos in building products.
The continued rise in imported building products, some purchased
online, has seen growing calls for a mandatory or voluntary
certification scheme, where building products are tested before being
declared safe for use in Australian buildings for certain uses.
There are also demands for the existing regulations to be more
rigorously policed, with Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne
calling for more inspections to be conducted on building materials
coming into Australia.
"The federal government needs to play a more active role in preventing
suspect materials from turning up on our construction sites," Mr Wynne
Mr Whitelaw said builders would always seek to maximise their profits.
"There certainly is an issue about the quality of product being used at
the moment," he said.
"I think you can't put a cost on life, health and safety."
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