Will Licensing Subcontractors Solve Non-Compliance Issues? 2

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
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Recent investigations undertaken by the WA Building Commission suggest that a high percentage of building work performed by subcontractors is deemed to be non-compliant with NCC requirements, especially at roof framework stage.

Current discussions suggest that licensing of subcontractors will be discussed at state government level, with the aim to improve compliance levels in our industry.

Although the latest form of discussions are healthy and indicate a willingness at government level to introduce some much needed change, I worry that trade licensing will lead to nothing more than the same mistakes being made by slightly more qualified personnel.

As an apprentice bricklayer back in 2005, I attained my trade certificate and thus would qualify as a ‘licensed tradesman.’ However, although the apprenticeship was important in making inroads into the industry, we didn’t reference compliance with the NCC or Australian Standards, discuss allowable tolerances, or even read and interpret plans and specifications. As a result, I was left to learn from my on-site mentor who, although he was a registered builder himself, still passed down to me a few bad habits. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I began conducting building inspections that I learned of the mistakes that I was making every day on people’s homes.

At least I had some guidance on how to carry out the work via the plans and specifications, which cannot be said for my roof carpenter counterparts. Often in residential construction, roof carpenters are left on site with little more than the position of the structural beams, and that ‘work is to be in accordance with AS 1684.2.’ This is not even possible in some situations, especially with the double-brick form of construction in WA. As such, the same mistakes are being implemented build after build, with many subcontractors taking it upon themselves to form solutions to meet compliance with the code.

My main concern with the licensing of trades is the quality assurance that takes place after the tradesperson has conducted his or her work. Will ‘compliance certificates’ need to be lodged similar to the EnergySafety system that is implemented for licensed electricians? If so, with the amount of non-compliant electrical works we regularly find in existing buildings, it is evident that this system is offering false protection to homeowners and not adequately punishing the ‘licensed trades’ who are willing to take their profession lightly and gamble with people’s lives.

I feel the answer lies in the ability of the design professionals and the builder to adequately document what is required all the way down to the tradesperson conducting the work. Workmanship clauses should be clearly stated in contract documents, plans and specifications should clearly state requirements, and manufacturers’ recommendations should be provided to the tradesperson. All of this information could form part of the subcontract agreement prior to work being undertaken.

Then, all that would be required is a quick ‘induction’ between the supervisor and the tradesperson, and a report conducted by the supervisor that work was carried out in accordance with the agreement. These reports could then be provided to the client. What better way to prove that you are on top of the job, advertise your services to others, and protect yourself should a dispute situation arise in the future?

As a subcontractor, I would have loved the opportunity to have been given definite direction on what is required when working for a builder. I took great pride in my work, as I know many other subcontractors do, although too often the compliance of building is left to the subcontractor making a decision whilst on site with little to no documentation to assist them.

Also, there is often no definition of what constitutes a good tradesperson, meaning that the job often goes to the lowest bidder. Again, a selection of reports could be attained by the subcontractor as a reference to use when trying to source work. Licensing of trades may be seen by many as a step in the right direction, but with a lack of definite instruction I fear that more defective work may be just around the corner.

Sub-Contractor Beam

This attempt by the roof carpenter as a beam installation was to join lengths of underpurlin with offcuts. The result? An extremely unstable and potentially dangerous roof structure.


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  1. James

    Good article Lewis.

  2. Brett Bates

    'Short cuts' (pun intended) such as is illustrated by the photo of an improvised strutting beam manufactured on site to resemble a pretty poor attempt at LVL timber engineering are typical of the lack of a strict regulation of high quality educational training standards and rigorous national licencing regime that is missing from Australia's building construction industry. When a 'tradesman' carpenter constructs such a bodgy frame without basic understanding that the member he constructed is a structural load bearing element – not just block out or packing- that must resist concentrated roof loads from the struts then something is seriously wrong. When the 'licensed' builder who employed the carpenter allows that to be constructed and claims any defence that he is not aware that it would not comply with AS1684 or AS1720 requirements then you know something is seriously wrong. When the certifier inspects the frame stage and gives it a compliance certificate you know something is seriously wrong. Good reporting Lewis and keep it up! If we all become squeaky doors on this topic we may get some serious oil from government on a national basis.