As concern about dangerous and non-conforming products within the Australian construction sector grows, moves to withdraw more than one hundred construction standards are raising concern.
As part of an ongoing review of aged standards, Standards Australia has placed 116 standards which relate to the construction sector onto a list which is slated for withdrawal
The standards in question have not been updated for 10 years and are not being managed by an active technical committee.
Matters covered by these standards are varied and include, among other things, performance requirements and testing methods relating to issues such as the load-bearing and stability of general access floors, the design and construction of suspended ceiling systems, requirements for concrete structures that contain reinforcing steel and the design of aluminium type structural load-carrying members.
Unless objections are received during a nine-week consultation period which ends on October 22, Standards Australia says it will seek approval for the standards to be withdrawn.
While the general concept of the review is broadly supported, the notion of standards being withdrawn in the absence of objections being raised is causing concern.
David West, a Sydney-based materials scientist and consultant for the performance of materials in buildings, says many of the standards provide important guidance as to what is acceptable for building performance and for testing methods of building product compliance. Their withdrawal, he cautions, could leave little guidance upon which to assess and challenge supplier claims about products meeting performance requirements and being fit for purpose.
In the example of access floors (elevated floors) in commercial buildings, the standard setting out performance requirements of the design and manufacture of the floor system is slated for withdrawal as are 15 standards relating to testing methods relating to matters such as rolling load tests, soft body impact tests, vertical pedestal strength for pedestals supporting the system and testing for stability of pedestals. In this case, West says the standards spell out the performance requirements and the test methods which would be used to determine whether a particular product meets those performance requirements in the Code.
“Take that away and people could just make a statement that it complies and it would be very difficult to challenge that statement because you don’t have a way to determine that (compliance) properly,” West said.
“In this case, they are proposing to withdraw both the performance standard and the test method standards. So there will be no way of evaluating whether a general access floor is suitable for use or not and is going to perform and there will be no guidance for an architect on whether a system offered is going to perform.”
West is also concerned about process of the review. Proposing standards for withdrawal on the basis of them not having been updated within the past decade and there being no active technical committee associated with them creates a ‘circular logic’ as the absence of the committee would mean standards have of course not been updated because there was no one to review and update them, he said. Moreover, given that a number of committees were removed a while back for reasons of cost savings, he fears standards may end up being withdrawn on the basis of an administrative-led process rather than industry deciding they were no longer relevant.
Others, meanwhile, welcome the review but add notes of caution.
Master Builders Australia CEO Wilhelm Harnisch said the importance of minimising the burden of compliance on the industry cannot be understated but suggested that decisions regarding the proposed withdrawal of standards should be based on the question of relevance rather than age. The standard relating to materials used for steel reinforcing (AS4671 2001), for example, remain contextually relevant and should be kept, he said.
Meanwhile, those standards which are not currently managed by an active technical committee should also go through a committee review process prior to their withdrawal, Harnisch added.