Better provision of information and guidance, suitable and adequate training and mandatory requirements on government supported programs have emerged as key themes in a plan to deliver better safety and control in the installation of insulation throughout Australia.
Developed by 39 companies, organisations and industry associations across sectors of insulation, building and energy efficiency, the Industry-led roadmap for quality control and safety in insulation has called for 24 actions from industry and government across five areas.
Specifically, the plan calls for:
- Better provision of information and guidance through development and provision of: industry guidelines; an online portal listing products which have been verified to meet the required Australian standard; and installation guidance materials.
- Better training through: reviewing of training and accreditation for installation installers; developing additional training units for particular types of insulation; developing a certification for lead insulation professionals; developing basic training for trades that interact with insulation; developing training for building inspectors; having industry leaders promoted as accredited insulation installers and professionals; and conducting a cost-benefit study on requiring training for installers.
- Mandatory requirements on government supported insulation installations including: use of verified products; use of pre-approved insulation installation firms; spot independent audits; use of accredited installers; following of installation guidelines and use of certified lead installation professionals.
- Better regulation and compliance through: nationally-harmonised implementation of recommendations from the Shergold Weir report; a review to ensure that insulation requirements are specified in building documentation; requiring a Certificate of Insulation during construction that is signed off by a certified installation professional; new requirements for provision of time and location stamped photos of insulation to building inspectors; and studies into more options to improvement independent assessment of insulation.
- Ensuring that building design, construction and retrofit processes integrate all elements of the building envelop through further analysis on options for integrated building envelop construction and retrofit and consideration of issues associated with DIY installation.
When used and installed properly, insulation can help to deliver better health, comfort and wellbeing along with lower energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
These benefits can be delivered when insulation is either installed in new homes or retrofitted into existing homes.
During installation, however, care must be taken to minimise unnecessary gaps in insulation coverage, to leave space around heat-generating equipment (heating, fans, downlights etc.) and to manage moisture related concerns such as by ensuring that ceiling insulation batts do not touch the underside of the roof sarking.
Meanwhile, safety issues need to be managed in areas such as working in a restricted space, working at height, contact with hazardous materials and electrical safety.
If not managed, these issues can be serious.
During the botched Commonwealth Home Insulation Scheme which was undertaken as part of economic stimulus measures following the global financial crisis, quality and safety issues were found on almost three in ten roof installations (see report) and four young installers died.
As outlined in Chapter 6 of a research report which was released earlier this year to help inform the roadmap, several initiatives have been undertaken since then.
Along with two updates to the Australian Standard for Bulk Installation – Installation (AS 3999: 2015) in 2013 and 2015, a number of installation companies, product suppliers and industry associations have developed formal and informal training.
In particular, the Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries Australia and New Zealand (AWCI) runs two-day training courses which cover various aspects of workplace safety and insulation techniques for different types of batt insulation products.
From there, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) runs an accreditation program for batt insulation installers. To receive accreditation, installers must: complete the AWCI training; hold public liability insurance, a white card and working at heights certification; and submit evidence of their work in seven batt insulation installations (3 wall/3 ceiling/1 floor batt installation).
In one state (South Australia), the lead contractor for insulation installation must have a building work contractor licence which includes insulation within its scope of activities.
Still, there is a long way to go.
Outside South Australia, there are no formal registration or accreditation requirements for insulation installation.
Moreover, numbers of those who have received formal training and accreditation remain low.
Thus far, only 27 installers have received full CEC accreditation (a further 46 have received provisional accreditation) whilst only 200 people have completed AWCI training over the past eight years.
Moreover, there is currently no formal training to provide the relevant skills for either spray insulation (i.e. expanding foams) or pumping insulation into walls despite these being the most cost-effective ways to retrofit insulation into many walls in Australia. (These are not taught in the batt installation training referred to above.)
In an online video presentation which accompanied the launch, Rob Murray-Leach, Head of Policy at the Energy Efficiency Council, said several elements were critical.
On training and accreditation, Murray-Leach says it is important not only to have basic training for those coming on site for the first time but also a means of recognising those who have been in the industry for several years and can therefore supervise and oversee work.
Also critical are incentives to take up training. On this score, Murray-Leach says governments should use their influence as both the owner of public housing and when they provide incentives for upgrades on private housing to ensure that work is done with quality control by people who are trained to the appropriate standard.
Finally, the system for insulation installations in new builds and upgrades must be as robust as possible in terms of quality control.
Jenny Edwards, Founder and Lead Scientist at Lighthouse Architecture and Building Science, says the importance of quality control in insulation installation should not be underestimated.
Insulation placed in ceilings, walls and floors, she said, can reduce household energy consumption by up to 50 or 75 percent.
What is important, however, is not only the presence of insulation but also the quality of its install.
When visiting new or existing homes, Edwards frequently finds gaps large gaps in ceiling insulation.
This is costly: only a five percent gap in R5 ceiling insulation can reduce its ability to prevent heat transfer by half.
Asked about priorities in the plan, Edwards says training is important as is the need to recognise those who have operated effectively in the industry for several years.
When it comes to installers, Edwards has come across many young workers with little training or experience but has also encountered top notch people who have been in the industry for many years.
Developing a means of recognising these people, she says, will help the industry to retain their services.
To deliver maximum energy performance, meanwhile, Edwards stresses that insulation needs to be considered in conjunction with draught-sealing.
Felicia Richardson, CEO of insulation installer company Enviroflex, agrees about the importance of training and quality control.
Speaking of her own firm’s approach, Richardson says Enviroflex has adopted several measures to develop the expertise of its workforce and to ensure the quality and safety of its installation jobs.
- Switching the company’s workforce to permanent employees. This was critical as there is little benefit for companies in training and developing casual or contract workers who are paid on a on a piece rate.
- Having workers undertake courses in insulation installation and gain CEC certification.
- Have installers undergo working with children checks – an important point as much of the company’s work focuses on retrofitting existing homes and involves installers working in homes where only mothers and children are present.
- Creating a career pathway which enables workers to progress from being young bat installers through to higher levels of skills, authority and remuneration.
This last point is important, Richardson said, as being an installer is often seen as a road to nowhere.
Richardson says the importance of action should not be underestimated.
Speaking of her own experience of entering the industry three years ago, Richardson discovered that manufacturers were well regulated but that installers were largely unregulated.
In their roadmap, the 39 organisations have called for a three-year implementation timeframe.
This would see measures in relation to government supported installations along with some training recommendations completed this year.
Other measures relating to provision of information and guidance along with training and accreditation would be rolled out across 2022 whilst longer-term measures would be rolled out in 2023.
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