In the wake of the Lacrosse Apartment fire in Melbourne’s Docklands district, and particularly following the official release of findings that blamed sub-standard exterior cladding as a key factor behind the spread of the blaze, there has been much written on the failure of the regulations surrounding building products.

Calls have gone out for the implementation of a national regulator and expansion of mandatory certification to cover more of the higher risk products to deliver safe and compliant products to the market.

What seems to be missing in the discussions to date is recognition of the liability that inherently attaches to any party to a contract when they make decisions to use non-compliant products, that then exposes them to downstream legal liability should failure occur. Jarrod Edwards, director, technical and regulation at the Victorian Building Authority has been quoted as saying that "it is the responsibility of the full building delivery chain – the designer, engineer, builder and building surveyor, as well as the manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers."

Notwithstanding the outcome of the Lacrosse Apartments legal action where, although a class action may still result, no-one was injured and apartment owners were found financially liable for rectification, the recent Grocon decision by the Victorian Courts that fined Grocon and its sign maker more than $500,000 over the deaths of three people in a wall collapse reinforces the reality that all people in the building supply chain have liabilities that can have significant legal risk and financial ramifications for companies.

It should not be forgotten either that such responsibility can also extend to individuals if they are negligent in their professional duties. Specifying or using non-compliant products in circumstances where significant damage or death could result is one instance where that risk and liability can accrue personally as well as to companies.

To date though, there has been little recognition of existing solutions in the market that can be easily accessed by everyone who wishes to have that peace of mind that the products they are specifying or buying have been vetted for compliance to fitness for purpose and safety standards and where required are BCA or legislatively compliant.

Certain third party certification schemes vet products for compliance as a prerequisite to certification.

CodeMark and WaterMark are what as known as ISO Type 5 schemes, where using quality management systems and regular third party inspections, the whole production output of approved products is determined to meet the fit for purpose and safety requirements for the National Construction Code’s (NCC) Building Code of Australia in the case of CodeMark and the NCC Plumbing Code in the case of WaterMark.

Global GreenTag is an ISO Type 1 Certification Program that uses a similar assessment and an inspection regime to ensure products have been certified by recognised testing bodies to meet BCA, Plumbing Code or other fitness for purpose standards prior to certification.

Much of the blame for sub-par products has been laid at the foot of imports, and indeed it would be the case that unqualified imports have been to blame for the recent cladding and electrical cabling debacles. According to Ai Group, this is also an issue across a range of construction product segments, with steel, electrical products, glass, aluminium and structural plywood products.

In fact, each of these three existing third party certification schemes now certifies a significant range of imported products from a list of countries that includes China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. A significant resource already exists, and the industry only needs to use the existing websites of these schemes to source products that have been vetted for fitness for purpose and compliance to safety standards.

  • David, you make some good points. I am not sure any government agency these days has the guts to lead the sort of actions you describe here. Even the Pink batts saga resulted in pretty meaningless action as occurs with insolvencies and home owner warranty. Risk aversion is the construction industry's cancer. It makes sure that there is a way out for almost everyone in the supply chain through from designer to manufacturer. Industry standards are pitched at 'minimum' compliance levels to accommodate the lowest common denominator. The key to change is for a few constructors (probably from the Tier 2 and 3 ranks) to resolve to be different. They will need a customer value proposition that sets them apart. I believe re-imagining the construction 'risk wrap' is a good place to start. When customers can understand a reasoned better deal then these leaders will be the disruptors of the status quo. But alas I suspect that these change agents will be a new breed of constructors who have yet to start their businesses. What is absolutely clear is that trying to legislate or enforce change to everyone in the industry has no chance. The legislators and regulators lack the insights needed to make that happen. They will depend on direction from self serving lobbyists who have another agenda in mind completely. Disruption will be unavoidable as the public increasingly looses faith in the existing institutions of construction. That's what caused the Uber's and AirBnb's to see the unsatisfied opportunity. Expect to see this change start in the housing sector first.

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