Building industry groups are calling for stronger oversight and enforcement of building products and construction regulations following the release of the Senate Economics References Committee report, Non-conforming building products: The need for a coherent and robust regulatory regime. The Inquiry’s key recommendation is that urgent action be taken to address persistent and systemic issues around conformance and compliance.
A spokesman for Insulation Australasia Scott Gibson tells Jobsite that while the industry commends some of the Inquiry’s recommendations, the broader industry issue of non-compliance needs addressing.
Whether it is non-conforming products or non-compliant product use regarding insulation, glazing, fixings or cladding, there is currently a lack of an effective industry regulatory regime, he says.
There has not yet been a “great deal of action” in terms of resourcing for regulatory oversight and enforcement, nor for a nationally harmonised approach to regulations and policy around building standards.
“The regulation is there, but state governments are paying lip service to the community at large if it’s not prepared to enforce it,” Gibson says.
He stresses that enshrining third-party certification of products as a key requirement for fundamental products, such as steel, insulation, electrical components and glazing, is vital.
“That would give us a foundation at least to allow us to self-regulate,” Gibson says.
Executive Director of the Australian Construction Industry Forum, James Cameron, says ACIF would like to see the Inquiry’s recommendations considered and implemented accordingly.
Chain of responsibility legislation, which is already law in Queensland New South Wales, needs to be enacted in all states and territories, he says.
State building authorities should also review their surveillance and audit activities, and “implement stronger penalty regimes to improve effectiveness in achieving compliance with the National Construction Code.”
Cameron says ACIF would also like to see an assessment of the feasibility of establishing a confidential reporting system to facilitate the reporting of industry concerns around non-conforming building products. He explains the clear benefits for the industry if non-conforming products and non-compliant work are both addressed.
“The biggest benefits for the industry would be less rectification work for builders and greater safety for building occupants,” Cameron says. “There are great amounts of non-conforming Infinity brand electrical cabling in building across Australia, for example, which could present future hazards to occupants, renovators, and electrical tradespeople.”
He also cites the example of the ASIO building in Canberra, where during the construction and commissioning period windows fell out and smashed on the ground.
“Thankfully no-one was injured. Further, there was an RAAF hangar that collapsed in Canberra several years ago, and several people were seriously injured.
“The Lacrosse building fire in the Melbourne Docklands and the combustible cladding incorrectly installed more than three stories high is another example.”
Cameron emphasises the distinction between non-conforming products and non-complying products.
Non-conforming products are faulty products that do not meet the applicable standards. For instance, the Perth Children’s Hospital glazing units that were found to contain asbestos.
Non-complying products, on the other hand, are products that have been manufactured correctly but have been installed incorrectly, as was the case with the cladding on Lacrosse.
Currently, building products used in Australia do not necessarily need to be tested and third-party certified in Australia. Various other forms of product certification are considered acceptable: this includes sign-off by an engineer in the country of origin that the products meet either Australian or equivalent standards.
While some industry participants have suggested that tightening up the certification requirements for products could be beneficial, Cameron warns there could be cost implications.
He says one expert has estimated that certifying all construction products in Australia would cost around $2 billion.
Phil Wilkinson, Executive Manager – Government Relations and Technical Services for the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating, says there are a few ways non-conforming products and non-compliant work can compromise a building and those who own, operate, and maintain it.
One example is flexible ductwork for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. When it is not rated to the standard it should be, it can compromise the energy use profile of the building.
As HVAC accounts for around 60 per cent of the average building’s energy use, this may mean the building does not achieve the designed NABERS energy rating.
Wilkinson says that industry investigations have found there are “a lot of non-compliant products” going into Australian buildings.
There is also the issue of products containing asbestos coming in from offshore. In some countries, “asbestos-free” standards allow for a small percentage of asbestos, unlike Australia, where “asbestos-free” means exactly that.
Where asbestos-containing products have been used, they pose a genuine threat to HVAC maintenance and repair trades and others that enter services areas—any free asbestos fibres get drawn into the HVAC system, Wilkinson explains.
He says there have also been issues around fraudulent certification of products including windows. Moreover, there are known to be fire dampeners that are also non-conforming or non-compliant.
The test standard for fire dampeners requires the product to be tested in the type of
wall assembly it will be installed within. However, Wilkinson says, many products have not completed the testing in the prescribed manner and have supplied inaccurate certification paperwork.
Wilkinson says that the cost concern around product choice can be a “false economy.” For example, if tape for fastening ductwork is cheap, but of poor quality, it may not retain its properties when exposed to heat and, therefore, fail to perform its role of sealing the ductwork.
This, in turn, affects the HVAC system’s efficiency and effectiveness, increasing building energy use. Where non-conforming or non-compliant insulation is an issue, the system could effectively become undersized for the job of delivering thermal comfort if the insulation is not performing as the design expected it should.
It is important to consider products from a “systems point of view,” he says. Builders and specifiers need to consider, “what does it mean for the building if those materials are substandard?”