Those looking forward to the findings from the Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products will have to wait a little longer after the inquiry committee were granted a three-month extension to report.
The committee was initially due to report by 12 October 2015 but was granted an extension by the Senate for 3 December. The Senate has now extended the deadline to 16 March 2016, giving the committee more time to consider the wealth of submissions and opinions they've received.
“We’ve just had a large number of submissions and inquiries and will need more time to consider them all before releasing a report,” a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Economics told Architecture & Design.
Over 70 submissions from industry associations and the private sector have been received by the committee, including letters from architect Mark Whitby and Clinton Cole of CplusC Architectural Workshop, as well as a crescendo of cries from Australia’s building industry associations.
Specifically the Senate inquiry will address:
1) The economic impact of non-conforming building products on the Australian building and construction industry
2) The impact of non-conforming building products on:
- Industry supply chains, including importers, manufacturers and fabricators
- Workplace safety and any associated risks
- Costs passed on to customers, including any insurance and compliance costs
- The overall quality of Australian buildings
3) Possible improvements to the current regulatory frameworks for ensuring that building products conform to Australian standards, with particular reference to the effectiveness of:
- Policing and enforcement of existing regulations
- Independent verification and assessment systems
- Surveillance and screening of imported building products, and (iv) restrictions and penalties imposed on non-conforming building products
4) And “any other related matters”
POLITICIANS TAKE A CLOSER ‘PIQUE’
There are hopes that serious reform could actually be on the way. Much of this pinned to the shoulders of characteristically outraged independent senators Nick Xenophon and Jackie Lambie.
They were the ones who called a senate Inquiry into the matter, in response to the mounting pressures from all corners of the industry to improve surveillance and certification of non-conforming products.
It was also a major topic when political and industry leaders from around Australia met for the Building Ministers Forum at the end of July. That forum is the body of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers responsible for building and plumbing regulation in Australia.
An unprecedented collective of industry groups have been working together to lobby the politicians, from designers, builders and procurers to manufacturers, surveyors and certification bodies, even the unions have stood alongside their usual sparring partners to fight the issue.
The Construction Product Alliance, made up of many of the above membership bodies, wrote on their behalf to all the Ministers to jointly call for a number of actions, including establishing a government/industry task force.
They asked government to look into the feasibility of establishing a single building products register for compliant product based on industry and government certification schemes.
They also suggested that the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) undertake a review of the current evidence of suitability criteria in the National Construction Code (NCC) as well as developing guidance material for the use of risk-based assessments to determine the appropriate evidence of suitability under the NCC.
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Senate Inquiry tackles non-conforming building products
Calls for a non-conforming products taskforce at Building Ministers' Forum
ACCC to Master Builders: “We’re not responsible for building product regulation”
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT - AND WHERE TO FIND INFORMATION?
What does it all mean for those designing buildings? Those seeking to ensure the environmental and sustainability more broadly of a project?
In the last couple of years, there have been a rising number of legal cases in NSW and Victoria where the owners of architecturally designed homes have realised that the energy efficient building products are not performing according to the designer’s specifications.
We’re told this relatively new issue growing in prominence as cheaper products are increasingly imported and substituted for the energy efficient solutions that have been specified.
“It’s all very well to specify something … somewhere along the way, you’ve got to ensure it is fit-for-purpose,” explains James Thomson from the construction product alliance, who also explains that many designers and specifiers are justifiably frustrated and confused about what they can do.
One initiative designed to help is the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) guide in October 2014 to help the industry better choose compliant construction products. Jointly developed by 30 key construction industry stakeholders, the guide aims to assist procurers, which includes architects, specifiers, engineers and building designers, to gain a more informed understanding of the compliance process and exercise improved decision-making.
This includes detailed explanations of the regulatory environment, the standards and conformance process and bodies, and how to determine whether a product is fit for purpose.
But then, it is virtually impossible to tell if many products and materials are compliant without doing some sort of analytical or physical testing.
We will wait with great interest the government’s decisions later this year. In the meantime , if at all unsure about a products credentials, contact the relevant association.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PRODUCT CONFORMANCE
Australian Building Products Board (ABCB), BCA, CodeMark and Watermark
JAS-ANZ, Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand
SAI Global (certification body)
Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia
Electrical Equipment Safety Scheme (EESS)
Insulated Panel Council Australasia Ltd
Australian Steel Institute (ASI)
Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels (ACRS)
WINDOWS & GLAZED PRODUCTS
Australian Window Association
Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia (EWPAA)