Building Sector Needs to Catch Up on Product Compliance

Friday, February 5th, 2016
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The Victorian Building Authority believes that all members along the entire construction “supply chain” need to take greater pains to ensure that building products and materials are in full compliance with requirements.

The use of non-compliant building materials by the construction sector has been the focus of considerable attention in the wake of the Lacrosse Apartment fire in Melbourne’s Docklands district –particularly following the release of official findings that pointed to sub-par exterior claddings a key factor behind the spread of the blaze.

Jarrod Edwards, Director, Technical and Regulation at the Victorian Building Authority, said to Sourceable that failure to ensure standards are adequately satisfied remains a major problem for the construction sector when it comes to the building materials and products they employ.

“The VBA conducted a recent audit of 170 buildings in the CBD and surrounding suburbs of Melbourne, and found an unacceptably high rate of the usage of non-compliant materials,” said Edwards, who is scheduled to deliver a presentation on building product compliance at the Design Build Expo in May.

“It’s very important that we take notice of this, and as a regulator we’ll be working with the Australian Building Codes board on a national level to raise awareness, identify breaches, improve performance and where necessary refer those matters for investigation.”

According to Edwards the responsibility of ensuring that products and materials are compliant should be borne all parties what he refers to as the complete delivery “supply chain” that is responsible for building creation.

“One of the findings of our audit was that there isn’t individual class or category of building practitioner that is more frequently culpable for non-compliance,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the fully building delivery chain – the designer, engineer, builder and building surveyor, as well as the manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers.

“Amongst all these parties we uncovered demonstrable lack of understanding, failure to be diligent in confirming appropriateness of use and failure of oversight in the context of building works undertaken.

“As a consequence much work is still needed to ensure that as an industry all parties to the supply chain contribute their part to the compliant use of building products and materials.”

Edwards said that it’s important that building practitioners remain well apprised of how to determine whether or not a particular building product or material is in compliance with code requirement and fit for purpose.

“The first step is for building practitioners to ensure they have a very clear and thorough understanding of what the requirements are of the National Construction Code,” said Edwards. “It’s important that the building designers, building certifiers and surveyors have a very clear understanding of the minimum standards that are required by the building code.”

The next key step is knowing the appropriate methods and pathways for validating products to ensure that they satisfy these code-mandated requirements.

“Practitioners then need to ensure that they have evidence from an appropriate source which demonstrates that a product or a material has been tested, analysed or assessed by a competent authority. Section A2.2 of the Building Code of Australia sets out what is acceptable evidence of suitability.”

When it comes to potentially hazardous products that are subject to specialised testing, it’s important to be sure that the laboratories conducting such tests are fully and properly accredited.

“If testing is required in a laboratory environment, we would expect that the laboratory or testing environment be accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, to indicate that a laboratory that the expertise to undertake testing in a controlled environment, as well as the capacity to report against particular standard definitions of that test,” said Edwards.

“It is critical to have an accredited laboratory for determining things like the combustibility of a product or the presence of asbestos.”

In addition to ensuring that potentially hazardous building products have undergone testing by accredited laboratories, it is also of vital importance to enlist qualified experts for the performance of specialised assessment.

“If building products require assessment by an engineer or similar, we would highly recommend that the assessment be undertaken or confirmed to be undertaken by a person who is a certified practising engineer recognised through Engineers Australia,” said Edwards. “They should be recognised on the National Engineering Register as demonstrating competence in a particular area of expertise.”

“The key elements here are recognition by an association or peak body, being Engineers Australia; registration in the relevant professional category, and the carrying of registration under the requirements of local legislations.

“In Victoria for example, if you are an engineer performing engineering design work then you need to be registered in this state. If you are registered on the National Engineering Register then this is seen as adequate demonstration of competence, and the registration process under the Victorian regime is quite straightforward.”

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