Uneven standards of private certification, overwhelming complexity in the building code and the tendency of individual states to add on extra regulation are among key barriers toward attaining the best possible system of building control in Australia, a key figure in the construction industry says.
Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) chief executive officer Peter Barda said a number of things came out of the review of the Building Education Revolution program with regard to the building control system and how it can be improved.
First, there is the private certification regime, which Barda says suffers from uneven quality standards around the country – a situation not helped by differing approaches to administration of certifiers and the way ‘deem to comply’ provisions of the construction code are administered among different states. Barda says the country needs a national dialogue about the role and qualifications of certifiers and requirements regarding performance monitoring and continuing professional development.
“We need to have a conversation across the board about exactly what the role of private certifiers needs to be, what their qualifications are and how their performance is monitored,” he said. “It’s not good enough for private certifiers to just say ‘Well I’m qualified now’. We really do need to be able to monitor how they perform and make sure whatever licensing or registration they have is kept up-to-date.”
Barda says two other challenges revolve around the increasing size and complexity of the Building Code of Australia and a tendency on the part of individual jurisdictions to add their own requirements.
He says this is presents a significant challenge to builders, who are presumed to know the law and are culpable when things go wrong.
“It is just the fact that there is so much of it [the Building Code],” he said.
“And the commercial difficulty is that you are assumed to know the law. The fact that the code was complicated or you couldn’t understand it or you didn’t bother reading it is no excuse. If you don’t observe some provision of the Code and something really unpleasant happens - the building falls down or people are hurt or something has to be torn down and done again - you’re culpable.”
Barda acknowledges there are no easy answers with regard to simplifying the Code, but says the industry needs to sit down and ask itself exactly what is needed in terms of providing guidance to people in the industry and whether so much complexity is indeed necessary.
With regard to the issue of added red tape and compliance requirements across different states, he says the industry needs to sit down with ministers (individually, if it is not possible to get them all together) and get commitments from them to reduce the compliance burden – with the industry first having generated suggestions about how to do so without compromising appropriate safeguards for building standards.
His comments come as the ACIF, together with the Australian Building Codes Board, looks to develop a national perspective about how to improve the building control supply chain.
In July, the two organisations sent out a survey asking industry participants to rank the current system against 13 criteria, from education and building practitioner licensing and training to building and product certification right through to practitioner compliance and auditing and monitoring the building control system.
Asked about how technology such as Building Information Modelling might help, Barda says the ability to build a contextualised model which serves as a representation of how the ‘as-built’ should appear is extremely useful.
He cautions, however, that this is no substitute for the role of the certifier on-site.
“You actually have to be there on-site and look at the thing that’s being built,” he said. “The model helps you part of the way, but I am not sure how you would actually replace a certifier.”