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In May 2018 Master Builders NSW published an article on fire hazards and containment netting, after a serious fire developed on a building remediation site on Macquarie Street Sydney opposite Parliament House. Containment netting fixed to multi-storey scaffolding ignited. The fire resulted in the deployment of emergency services and required the evacuation of personnel from the work site and building.

Containment netting may also be referred to as ‘containment sheeting’, ‘screening’ or ‘scaffolding mesh’. The material is designed to contain demolition debris adjacent to public thoroughfares, suppress dust on construction sites and provide respite for site personnel from sun exposure when traversing from floor to floor. 

Coincidently, the fire destroyed scaffolding that had been erected around the building to remove flammable cladding, which had been identified as a fire risk. The cladding was removed the week prior to the fire which was limited to the scaffolding.

Shortly after the third shade cloth fire in the Sydney CBD, senior staff at the Master Builders Association of New South Wales identified a trend in shade cloth fires and approached the then Minister for Better Regulation Hon. Matt Kean, advising that Australia did not have a National Standard to follow with any sort of flame index or fire-retardant rating regarding the encapsulation of scaffold. In fact, the Building and Construction Industry had unofficially adopted sections from another Standard from the Oil and Gas sector, namely the British Standard BS 7955. The Minister supported the development of the Standard. 

A meeting was held with Standards Australia shortly thereafter where a project proposal was approved in principle to commence drafting content for the Standard. That led to the development of a new standard for safety mesh, the dissemination of safety alerts a couple of times each month and engagement with industry and regulatory bodies on such safety matters.

David Solomon, Master Builders NSW Executive Officer Technical, Safety & Risk said “After the third shade cloth fire in the Sydney metro area, we felt compelled to do something proactive, cognisant that the Building and Construction Industry were using a UK Standard from the Oil & Gas Sector that was not relevant to our industry nor suited to the Australian environment, we set about meeting with the Minister, who supported the development of such a Standard, so long as there was no additional cost to builders”.

On September 3rd a new Australian Standard AS 1576.7 (Int):2021 - Scaffolding, Part 7: Safe use of encapsulation on scaffolding was published. 
The objective of the Standard is to provide requirements and test methods for encapsulation and containment products for attachment to scaffolding to provide products that are suitable for the intended application, including fire hazard properties, strength properties ad fixing requirements. The document also specifies installation procedure for various types of encapsulation. The control of risk of personnel falling from scaffolding is NOT the function of encapsulation or the Standard.

It should be noted that the Standard does not apply to encapsulation or containment attached to perimeter protection screens, to containment nets fixed below perimeter protection screens or to advertising banners attached to scaffold on the outside of encapsulation.

AS1576.7 document is an interim Standard for a period of two years and should be regarded as a developmental Standard and liable to future alteration. The two-year expiry period concludes 3rd September 2023, when it will be superseded by another Standard.

David Solomon, FISQEM, 
Executive Officer Technical, Safety & Risk,
Certified Management System Specialist,
Convenor ISO TC283 WG4.