When Will We Accept that Change Can Be Positive?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
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In response to the recent release of General Inspection Report One (GIR1), the WA building commission is currently considering the creation of the Building Rules Advisory Committee (BRAC).

This committee will in no doubt represent a fantastic opportunity to implement positive change on the WA construction industry. The risk, however, is that it may also prove to be another name for a bunch of people who are trying to maintain the status quo.

With a number of different stakeholders all involved in the possible formation of the BRAC, I feel there should be some clear policy objectives outlined by the building commission prior to the establishment of the committee, which will hopefully reduce the risk of the committee becoming fraught with dispute between parties.

Industry associations have already submitted responses in relation to GIR1, with main criticisms of the report being the following:

  • The small sample size in determining non-compliance is not a true representation of how the industry is performing on the whole.
  • Any recommendations involving mandatory inspections add ‘counter-productive red tape’ to the building process.
  • Non-compliance was determined against AS 1684.2 and therefore no consideration was given against any alternative/performance solutions that may exist.

In the first instance, I feel that if any industry member were to inspect the quality of work on offer over the period of one week, they would soon realise the building commission’s figures are an accurate representation of non-compliance, if not slightly complimentary. Statisticians have also reviewed the reports content and found the figures to represent a fairly accurate sampling, dispelling any negative comments in relation to sample size.

The second negative response in relation to mandatory inspections is certainly not unsubstantiated in my opinion. Firstly, there are no licensing requirements for inspectors and therefore no governing body or CPD program in place. I tend to agree with submissions that raise this issue as without clear definition between parties, how are we able to adequate identify an inspector’s knowledge and monitor any conflict of interest between the inspector and the builder?

I believe that with the formation of an association of inspectors who are recognised as adequately qualified to undertake the inspections, mandatory inspections should certainly be considered on a trial basis. All inspectors would have to conform to the same checks in relation to the roof framework, and all reports could be independently assessed by the building commission. This would allow for data to be kept as to the success of inspections in terms of addressing non-compliance, and would also highlight any builders who are clearly not ensuring adequate supervision of their projects.

The final negative point raised in relation to the report is the lack of understanding in relation to performance solutions implemented to the particular job. Whilst I believe there are multiple issues that need to be addressed in relation to performance solutions, none of them would have impaired the outcomes of the building commission’s report.

Firstly, in many instances where the building commission checked to see if the performance solution was clearly stated on the building permit, it was found that no such performance solution existed. As an inspector, I have received a ‘performance solution’ which was little more than a photo from another job and a sentence explaining what has been done.

This brings us on to our second problem: education and communication from the design to construction process. Many of our ‘performance solutions’ here in WA are little more than construction techniques that have become the norm without any real evidence to suggest compliance. That is not to say that these techniques will not meet the performance requirements, but these checks should be made for each specific job. In terms of education, a much clearer understanding of performance requirements and how they are assessed would promote compliance, innovation, and affordability.

Thirdly, as many have stated before, the conflict of interest between the builder and consultants is also a huge issue that has the potential for costly errors. Whether it be the engineer who is willing to sign off on a performance solution after non-compliance has been identified or the building surveyor who is reliant upon the builder for a steady stream of work, I believe this issue is possibly the biggest and most difficult issue to find a solution to. I am sure there are many construction lawyers out there who know our current system will certainly keep them busy over the coming decades.

It is worth noting that many of the submissions against the building commissions report on non-compliance came from groups that are either paid to represent builders or paid by builders to offer a service. But did anyone actually ask the builders themselves for their suggestions on improving quality? I know of many builders who have employed additional quality assurance techniques and I also know of many tradesmen who are happy with the release of these types of reports, as it represents the only opportunity for them to offer a clear comparison on the quality of their workmanship against the quality of others.

The builders who are increasing the quality of their product and engaging the tradesmen taking pride in the work will not get paid more than the builder next door cutting corners and trimming costs, which means the playing field is not remotely level.

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