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.

  • Good article Andrew.

    The portions of the National Construction Code mentioned by BPIC in its report are indeed a little lax as are so many of our codes because there are hidden agendas to free up the industry for innovation for instance.

    And in so relaxing the rules we are now encountering hundreds of multi-storey buildings in dire situations due to combustibility breaches of Code 1530.1… which is defined in section 1.1… not even mentioned.

    What's more, there are sections such as 1.0.9 of volume 2 of the National Construction Code (NCC) : Alternative Solutions which have also been voided by INDIVIDUALS who specified / chose these (usually cheaper) materials over those materials that do comply.

    And there are Building Surveyors who allowed this to occur: where the opinions of so-called 'experts' (as permitted under 1.0.9 Assessment Methods of the same volume of the NCC) were not challenged by these building surveyors. These 'loopholes' are even more basic than the sections mentioned in the article and hit at the very heart of lack of consumer rights.

    Perhaps as a corollary there could be an article on how these individuals are not being charged with negligence, whilst owners of apartments / offices and the like have to pay exorbitant prices for necessary upgrades.

  • Andrew,

    Should the 1988 date be 1990. I believe the last amendment to the Victorian Building Regulations was in late 1988. My first copy of the BCA is also dated 1990.

  • Andrew, why do we keep hearing about hospitals? Perhaps because it matters not whether public or privately owned buildings, there are no consequences for those who elect to ignore the law, the safety of buildings and the consequences for consumers' lives. There are so many examples of what you describe as 'lax' and Mr Overton describes as 'loose'. Think about the whole the non-compliant industry and all the consumer victims. As the Vic Auditor-General confirmed last year, every element of 'consumer protection' has failed owners for the past 23 years. What do you suggest to change what is fraud across the industry, involving non-conforming products and non-compliant workmanship? A culture of governance that is more than lax has raised the lack of enforcement to a disgraceful art form. The losers as always are the public (no matter what state we look at), all of whom are building consumers and all of whom are legally defrauded of their hard earned savings. And this only enabled by bureaucracies and Governments committed to protecting business as their top priority, with the corollary of no consumer protection translating into devastating damage to the lives of millions of Australian consumers.
    As Mark commented, perhaps the most critical players here are building surveyors who knowingly approve non-compliant works as "generally in compliance" – this the typical phrase on their 'reports'. There is virtually no punishment and hence no deterrence to serial misconduct, negligence or fraud. The industry is utterly lawless, this 'approved' over so many years means it is at a level way beyond 'out-of-control'. Misconduct is now normal for so many involved in 'building', extremely widespread and more outrageous than ever.

  • Interesting conversation. Legislation seems to have as one of its fundamental precepts the protection of the politicians elected to administer it . The impotence of the cumbersome bureaucratic process is clearly the objective politicians seek. As long as there is adherence to process and protocol the system is perceived to be above criticism and political risk minimised. By way of example the building surveyor has evolved from the person who once surveyed the work on the ground to the individual who now certifies design compliance by looking at drawings and nominating the Australian Standard or the section of the National Construction Code which is deemed to satisfy. There is a view that this evolution had its beginnings in the fear, local government authorities had, of the potential litigation that might occur, because of their on site surveillance of building practices. The process is further compromised by a recent finding where manufacturer's recommendations were argued to be more reliable than Australian Standards. The reason being, that they are more up to date and accordingly relevant, because of the inability of Australian Standards to keep pace with change. So apparently we are moving rapidly towards that situation where the inmates will be running the institution, if we are not already there. This comment is all hearsay. An amalgam of over heard discussions of those in the compliance/regulation industry, which like quicksilver slips through the fingers when one attempts to recapture it. What is certain is that dispute resolution after the event will live on. Improving outcomes in that arena is something that can be achieved.

  • We created this issue not one government or ABCB lackey. Would plasterboard pass 1530.1? Has anyone tested aluminium and glass to 1530.1? These are materials that are allowed to be used, having a standards mark now is useless. Let's cut to the chase and get a BBA type of system, where the insurance companies confirm the building can be insured against fire and structural performance. Let's cut the public service and sell ourselves to the company with the best certificates

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