Lax requirements relating to evidence regarding the suitability of materials used in building and construction projects throughout Australia are enabling products to be substituted and materials to be used which are not fit for purpose, a leading body representing building product manufacture and supply industry associations says.
Unveiling its position paper with regard to a current review of rules relating to evidence gathering under the National Construction Code (NCC), the Building Products Innovation Council (BPIC) says that despite the growing availability of building product supply options from overseas, evidence gathering requirements under Part A2 provisions of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) remain virtually unchanged since the first edition of the Code was introduced in 1988.
As a result, the BPIC says an increasing number of purchasers and suppliers are "seeking to use the Code and verification weaknesses to deliberately substitute or provide substandard products" amid a desire on the part of some builders and developers to reduce building costs to an extent which ‘"may conflict with their obligation to deliver compliant and safe buildings."
It said the costs of products which do not meet standards revolve around poor quality buildings and physical danger or financial risk to consumers along with lost sales and employment opportunities in manufacturing.
BPIC deputy chairperson Warren Overton noted there are pathways allowed for under the BCA regarding evidence gathering through which designers and builders can demonstrate that products used within their projects do indeed meet the performance requirements specified under the Code. These, however, are too loosely defined and allow for too much latitude with regard to the types of evidence which are accepted, he said.
“You can choose a product and accept the information provided by the supplier as long as you are happy with it and never bother with independent verification,” Overton said, referring to the ways in which designers and builders are able to go about product selection and procurement under current rule.
“The terminology is a little bit too loose. We are arguing for more stringency about who can provide documentation and what would it include.”
The paper released by the BRIC – which represents major industry associations across building product areas such as concrete, steel, bricks, timber, windows, glass, tiles and insulation – comes in response to a review of evidence of suitability requirements as specified in Part A2 of Volume 1 of the National Construction Code and Part 1.2 of Volume 2 of the Code currently being undertaken by the Australian Building Codes Board.
The review is looking at what should be required with regard to forms of evidence which are required to support compliance with both performance solutions and deemed to satisfy solutions.
The paper also comes amid a much broader debate about the problem of products and materials being used in building sites around Australia, which was brought into the public spotlight last year after testing found that cladding used on the Lacrosse apartment building at Docklands was highly combustible and contributed to the rapid spread of fire up the side of the building in 2014.
The issue was brought to a head again recently after asbestos was discovered in roof panels on the site of the $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital project – a discovery which lead builder John Holland admits will necessitate the replacement of the entire roof.
Outside of evidence gathering, Overton said the definition of a building product should be extended to be a ‘consumer good’ in order to enable the ACCC to act in cases of incorrect labelling and promotion whilst fines and penalties associated with use of non-conforming products should be beefed up.
He says non-conforming products are a multi-faceted problem which requires action on multiple fronts, and has called on the Building Ministers Forum to adopt an accelerated program of work in order to address critical challenges in this area.