The Building Products Innovation Council (BPIC) is calling for an overhaul of the evidence of suitability provisions in the building code, to end the use of non-fit and non-complying building products in Australia.
The Industry Position Paper - NCC Evidence of Suitability (A2) Review offers five recommendations for change to the National Construction Code (NCC) Evidence of Suitability (A2) provisions which is currently being reviewed by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB).
Interestingly, the BPIC is calling for a crackdown on the use of conforming building products in inappropriate designs and forms of construction (non-compliant applications), rather than simply focussing on the procurement and use of non-conforming products.
AN EVOLVING PROBLEM
The BPIC notes that despite the evolution of the building product marketplace since the release of the first Building Code of Australia in 1988, the NCC A2 provisions have remained essentially unchanged.
This evolution has had a significant effect on the supply chain over the past decade, brought on by an increased use of offshore sources, a decreased level of local manufacturing and an increased uptake in online purchasing of building products.
For the BPIC, this has led to both a saturation of non-compliant building products in the Australian marketplace as well as an increased use of non-fit building products on Australian buildings as many suppliers are marketing products manufactured by others as their ‘own brand’ and intimating to consumers that they are the original producers but don’t have the knowledge to ensure products they purchase are ‘fit-for-purpose’.
Once these products are in the supply chain, says the BPIC, the provenance is often lost and seeking a remedy to building failures when they arise becomes extremely difficult.
“Improved ease of import, declining availability from Australian manufacturers, international design trends and intensifying competitive pressures has led to more instances of ‘one off’ direct imports of small quantities (e.g. one shipping container load) of particular building products by builders and project managers for use on a particular project,” reads the report.
“Such imports often come from suppliers with whom no ongoing commercial relationship exists or is contemplated, and whose quality compliance performance is often unknown or unknowable.”
Additionally, says the BPIC, the current A2 provisions make it easy for builders to substitute products specified (and compliant) at the design stage for products that that might not necessarily meet the performance as the original specified.
“Alternative products to those that are specified at the design stage of a building as part of an appropriate Evidence of Suitability process can be substituted without any effective mechanism to ensure the alternative has the same properties, performance and credentials as the original specified product,” they explain.
“This situation is exacerbated by the practice of using the terms “or similar” and “or equivalent” on documentation where the critical performance metrics of the specified products are not listed so there is no way for alternative or substituted products to be evaluated against original fit-for-purpose compliance criteria.”
Ultimately, says the BPIC, the most fundamental problem is that the majority of building products do not require any form of approval or have any requirement to attest to their performance and fitness for purpose prior to being offered for sale.
“In many instances, a conforming and a non-conforming product can look and feel the same. Establishing compliance at the point of sale is the most effective place for enforcement and will work for many products that have manufacturer compliance documentation, product approval forms, and certification, but it is not practical for all products and this needs to be taken into account,”
“Whilst Australian standards are called up in building codes, and thus by reference must be adhered to, the method of demonstrating compliance is poorly articulated. While mandatory certification would seem to be an answer to many of these issues, it has not proven to be completely effective in the electrical and plumbing sectors, and is not necessarily appropriate for building products used in many relatively benign applications (e.g. door stops, skirting boards, etc).”
The BPIC made five recommended NCC A2 changes which are summarised in the drop-downs below:
1. COMPLIANCE PATHWAYS
The change attempts to address the use of misuse of “compliant” products. The problem here is that the current A2 provisions combine products, designs and systems compliance together and treat them as equals for the purpose of evidence.
This is no longer sufficient to address the broad range of ways a product may be used in a building. There is also no separation between the use of the provisions for designs versus products which creates confusion about which of the A2 pathways is appropriate.
1.1 The NCC should consider product certification processes that are differentiated between the two compliance pathways (Deemed-to-Satisfy and Performance).
(a) update the definition of ‘materials’ to include products, designs, systems, forms of construction, sub-assemblies and macro-assemblies (including the approval process for one-off vs. type/system), or;
(b) create separate clauses within each main compliance pathway to address products, designs, systems, forms of construction, sub-assemblies and macro-assemblies (including the approval process for one-off vs. type/system), with a review of each clause for its suitability for each group.
1.3 Industry associations with certification schemes and authorities that comply with ISO/IEC 17065:2013 should be specifically referenced (where they exist) rather than a generic reference to a Certificate of Conformity or Certificate of Accreditation.
The change attempts to address the vague terms used in A2 provisions to define person/authorities and forms of documentary evidence to inhibit exploitation of code and verification weaknesses.
2.1 Tighten the definition of ‘adequate’ and ‘appropriately qualified’ person to ensure they have a national qualification recognised by an Appropriate Authority and that they belong to a reputable professional body with the means to confirm the national qualification, as well as the ability to regularly audit and discipline them if required.
2.2 The definition of “professional engineer” should be re-examined, in consultation with industry stakeholders, to reflect the application of appropriate, verifiable industry and professional standards (especially since a number of Jurisdictions currently have no means to verify the competence of engineers), as well as mandating engineer’s areas of specialty and years of experience in those areas.
2.3 All compliance by calculation must document the core assumptions being used for the specific building application.
2.4 The A2(a)(vi) clause “Any other form of documentary evidence….” is an unacceptable method of support and it should be removed in its entirety.
2.5 All terminology used in A2 should be reviewed to remove duplication (or divergence) with international terms and accurately reflect terms used under international (ILAC) agreements.
3. PRODUCT TESTING
The most significant of all the recommended changes, this change attempts to curtail the amount of building products making it into Australian marketplace under the guise of compliance. It addresses problems with ‘type testing’ or ‘golden sampling’ products as well as inconsistency between product test data in relation to ‘as-built’ performance. Another change will target those suppliers marketing products manufactured by others as their ‘own brand’ and intimating to consumers that they are the original producers (or in control of the production process).
3.1 For mass-produced products – Testing required to ACCC Mandatory Safety Standards (where applicable), relevant Australian Standards and to equivalent or more onerous International Standards, where equivalence is based on:
- The accreditation status of the laboratory being appropriate for the test being conducted.
- Test conditions, specimen configuration and equipment being identified.
- Test duration being confirmed. o Performance and test results being validated.
3.2 For mass-produced products that have been varied to a minor degree from a product that has been tested in accordance with Recommendation 3.1 above, they can only be certified where this variation is specifically assessed and documented.
3.3 Require all manufacturers to (including suppliers that market products as ‘own brand’) have an independently audited Quality Assurance system in place that is recognised in Australia and that as a minimum meets the following requirements:
- Testing or inspection of samples from the open market every 2-3 years (having passed completely through the supply chain and been subjected to all handling, transport and assembly stresses). o Product labels/receipts to identify manufacturing date and specific manufacturing facility from where product is produced.
- Testing or inspection of samples from the factory/production facility.
- Regular and documented quality system audits. o Independent assessment of the production process or service.
3.4 For mass-produced products – Regular random and independent sample testing is recommended in accordance with relevant Australian Standards (such as ISO IEC AS/NZS 17065) to ensure that production/manufacturing changes have not diminished the performance of the finished products compared to the original tested product.
3.5 For custom/site-specific products - Effective field screening tests are recommended.
3.6 Manufacturers of mass-produced products to undertake in-situ product and sub-assembly testing (with adjustments to allow for reasonable site tolerances and conditions) to confirm that the ‘as-built’ performance of products match or exceed their performance when tested in isolation.
3.7 All testing or certification bodies should be organisations able to demonstrate both product-specific technical capacity and testing or certification competence relevant to the product being assessed. Such capacity and competence should be able to be independently confirmed.
3.8 The ABCB should establish and maintain a register of existing product testing obligations under relevant standards. 1.3.9 The ABCB should prepare guidance information for the use of alternative products as part of building solutions with reference to testing requirements where they exist.
4. PRODUCTS USED IN HIGH-RISK APPLICATIONS
The BPIC are concerned that the current focus by the ABCB and others on ‘high-risk’ product certification misses the major issue that is actually about conforming products that are used in inappropriate designs and forms of construction (non-compliant applications) or in high risk applications (e.g. structural supports, fireproofing, water penetration, etc).
4.1 Extend the current A2 provision’s emphasis on product conformity to codes and standards, to include a concise and verifiable pathway to demonstrate that products are specified and used only for the purpose for which they are intended.
4.2 Adopt the BRANZ risk hierarchy of documentation (see: Using the Product Assurance Framework to Support Building Code Compliance – A Guide for Manufacturers and Suppliers of Building Products) as well as the New Zealand Building Performance - Product Assurance and Multi Proof methodology.
4.3 For custom/site-specific products and systems a protocol is needed to support the building approval process. For products or designs where there is large risk to the community (including design event return periods for public, critical services, and post-disaster buildings), there is a need for a robust peer review process (where the independence of peers can be guaranteed) or an independent expert panel, to undertake or review the solution.
5. INNOVATION ISSUES
The BPIC are concerned that higher A2 stringencies could become a barrier to product innovation so recommend all changes be carefully reviewed.
5.1 All changes to the A2 provisions must be carefully reviewed to ensure that while they provide the necessary safety and performance standards required, they also foster the introduction and use of new products, technologies or techniques.
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