Non-conforming products (NCPs) are a significant problem in the building and construction sector which must be addressed, industry leaders say.

Housing Industry Association senior executive director of building, development and the environment Kristin Brookfield says a number of factors are leading to a growing prevalence of faulty products in the sector, including an increasingly global marketplace, a growing volume of purchases being made online, gaps in the regulatory environment and growing pressure to cut costs.

Kristen Brookfield

Kristin Brookfield

“Building products are now a global market,” Brookfield said, adding that this is especially the case for smaller, lightweight products which are easily transported.

“Online purchasing is now possible and has brought uneducated buyers into the market who are unwittingly buying goods that are not fit for purpose. There are many Australian building product manufacturers, however they are competing in this global market, and as with much manufacturing in Australia, they are competing on price for labour.”

“Australia’s framework for managing building materials is limited. Whilst we have a national building code and many of the necessary technical standards, oversight and checking is left to the last people in the supply chain – the builder and the building inspector. By leaving the regulation to the last possible moment, manufacturers and suppliers can still retail building products that may not be fit for purpose.”

Brookfield’s sentiments are echoed by Australian Industry Group chief executive officer Innes Willox, who talks of a lack of independent verification and visible regulatory authority in the building and construction sector, which he says is making the conformance framework “ineffective and unfair.”

These comments come after debate about the growing prevalence of NCPs within the sector intensified last year following a national recall of about 40,000 electric cables in August. The cables were found to have poor quality insulation that could lead to premature degradation and risk of electric shock or fire.

That recall followed an earlier report from Ai Group which highlighted widespread prevalence of NCPs across a range of construction product segments, with steel, electrical products, and glass and aluminium products as well as structural plywood being particularly affected.

Such concerns have been heightened by recent media reports about asbestos being found in cheap plasterboard products from China as well as gaskets, trains, mining equipment and other vehicles.

In response, the sector has ramped up efforts to tackle the problem. Together with HIA and others, Ai Group last year formed a coalition group known as the Construction Products Alliance to raise awareness about NCPs within the industry and engage with policy makers and regulators about how to improve surveillance and certification.

Meanwhile, a number of industry groups contributed to work behind a comprehensive guide published by the Australian Procurement and Construction Council to help builders achieve compliance with the requirements of the National Construction Code from a procurement perspective.

Action is also happening at a more detailed level. The Australian Windows Association, for example, operates a ‘dob-in-a-site’ scheme which enables individuals to report any instances where they believe a builder has installed non-compliant windows or doors on a confidential basis. The AWA forwards any complaints to authorities where the builder concerned is unable to prove compliance.

Brookfield says there is no singular solution and that the best thing is for industry bodies to help raise awareness of the issue and provide practical advice within the sector and engage with policy makers and regulators about how to strengthen certification regimes.

She notes the consequences of NCPs are serious.

“The most concerning area of failure in building products will always be those that relate to safety,” Brookfield said. “The national recall of poorly insulated electrical cable was the most recent example of this last year, but products like windows, structural steel, structural bolts and even timber products used as the formwork for concrete have had significant failures in recent years.”

“HIA is extremely concerned that the builder is often the only person with any responsibility to make sure the products are fit for purpose and purchases made in good faith can still lead to them having a role in ‘fixing’ a problem.”

  • I strongly agree with a move to improve the unrelenting influx of inferior products flooding our Construction market. I am in the Architectural Hardware Sector of this industry. We find the lack of knowledge & the fact that anyone can write a Hardware Door Schedule without meeting the conformance/compliance and waiving all responsibility is commonplace nowadays. I am very pleased to see that the momentum is growing to combat this problem. I would be happy to speak to anyone wishing to discuss or seek a solution. Kind regards, Lydia Vujica

  • The NCP situation is cronic. It is leaving everything to after the fact. Replacement of product comes at a cost. All products need to be certified PRIOR to acceptance on a job not when the tenants or home owner is moving in. It's all too late then.

  • Why are we still allowing such Non Conforming products to reach our shores.
    And more importantly who is responsible..?/

  • A search for "Construction Products Alliance" on-line doesn't seem to do the trick – can someone assist?

  • Correct, and the myth that cost can be endlessly taken out of a product without reducing quality prevails.
    Perceived cost savings simply add cost to the tradesperson/builder /consumer to rectify.
    Cost needs to be reduced in the supply chain, not the manufacture. Importer/wholesaler/retailer/builder margin on top of transport/ warehousing/ duties and taxes can increase a raw manufacture cost by 10 fold.
    The formula should be, “how can a product be made better and delivered cost effectively”.

  • Lack of appropriate controls and checks on standards is also a problem with food imported from overseas (sorry for the sidetrack but I think the causes are the same)

  • With respect to building products, there is a lot of manipulation and interpretation issues associated with the NCC and the referenced standards with little understanding of the consequences. This ranges from Aluminium Composites being used for cladding which are combustible and spray on polypropylene foam being used asd vapour barriers and insulation exposed in the ceilings of carparks and deemed a Group 2 material by using inappropriate testing regimes.
    While we have clear understanding of the rated expanding foam sealants being inappropriate for anything but masonry to masonry re AS1503.4 and non-conforming to AS4072.1, we still have no defined appropriate materials for providing a smoke seal between elements (so by default anything will do and is being used including unrated expanding foam as long as it seals the hole. My own view is that irrespective – its FRL should not be less than the FRL of the element which it is sealing.

  • I know for a fact that these materials go thru some form of testing as part of their QA, may it be per batch, per hundreds etc. In addition we have ITP's on site to follow to ensure NCR's are mitigated and controlled. If the item fails then an investigation is required to determine its root and cause of failure. Now, if the material is found defective then the supplier will be liable for the failure and so on. I can understand where your coming from, its very hard to inspect and to ensure that all materials used passes the standards. If we follow the process in inspection and testing we shouldn't worry to much, unless we come up with a more fool proof testing out there.

  • I have to agree with the sentiments of this article having witnessed first hand in my role as a Quality Inspector sub standard articles brought onsite that had clearly not undergone any real form of QC at the manufacturing facility, despite there being volumes of product compliance certification to the contrary. I will also say that we cannot exclude Australian manufacturers from this practice as it has been my experience that depending on the overseas facility you can in fact see much higher quality in steel supply. Like most engineering problems the solution is almost always cheaper and most cost effective to if solved at the source, rather than trying to put in place controls further down the chain which become infinitely more expensive and time consuming to resolve.

  • If not already, suggest liaison with Steel Institute as they are quite active in addressing the issue of no compliant materials and upholding relevant standards, for the construction industry there being some overlap into issues with other materials too. Be careful of the 'tick and flick' approach to what seems like sound QA paperwork as there are many cases of documents being fabricated better than the materials they represent.

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