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By Willow Aliento
September 6, 2017
The Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products has just released an interim report on the issue of non-compliant use of aluminium composite panels with flammable polyethylene cores – and its recommendations, if adopted, could have far-reaching implications across the construction supply chain.
Among them is a call for a complete ban on the importation, sale and use of aluminium composite cladding with a Polyethylene core; national licensing harmonisation and cutting the cost of accessing Australian Standards.
The committee said that while there are compliant uses for PE core ACPs under the National Construction Code, in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it “does not consider there to be any legitimate use” of the products on any Australian building type.
“...as there are safe non-flammable and fire retardant alternatives available there is no place for PE core ACPs in the Australian market.”
It has called on the Australian government to implement a total ban on the importation of the panels, and a ban on their domestic sale and use as a matter of urgency.
The committee has also recommended a national licensing scheme for all trades and professionals involved in the building industry, including building surveyors, building inspectors, builders and project managers.
This would improve compliance, and provide greater consumer protection and public safety outcomes. As part of this proposed national scheme, continued professional development would be a requirement.
It has also taken aim at the cost hurdle industry participants face in terms of accessing Australian Standards.
“The committee is dismayed that building practitioners are expected to pay unreasonable sums of money to access Australian Standards which are required to ensure they comply with the NCC,” the report said.
“In the committee's view, making Australian Standards freely available would have a significant impact on building compliance. More importantly it will reduce the overall cost of compliance and insurance and most significantly, it will reduce the cost and impact on future state and territory emergency, fire and medical services.”
Currently Australian Standards have to be purchased from SAI Global, which has had the publishing rights.
The committee said that as the contract between SAI Global and Standards Australia is coming up for renewal, it believes the Commonwealth government should give “serious consideration to engaging with Standards Australia to explore possible options to providing free access to Australian Standards, including reinstating online access to the Standards through Australian libraries.”
Compliance and oversight was also highlighted, including support for nationally consistent mandatory on-site inspections throughout construction. One option could be the reinstatement of the role of Clerk of Works.
Evidence received by the committee indicates there is a need for a central oversight role that is independent from industry to ensure structures are built according to the agreed national standards, the report said.
“The committee also endorses the inclusion of mandatory inspections by fire safety engineers and fire authorities to ensure buildings are compliant and public safety is upheld.”
In addition, it has called for measures to be put in place that ensure greater accountability across the supply chain.
Currently, building compliance is weighted “too heavily” at the end of the supply chain.
The new Queensland legislation that toughens up accountability and compliance across the whole chain, including designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers will “go some way” to ensuring accountability, the committee said.
It is calling on all states and territories to consider developing a similar approach, and has recommended the Building Ministers Forum consider introducing nationally consistent measures to increase accountability.
The committee acknowledged that these proposed reforms if adopted by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments could result in significant changes.
“The committee intends to keep a close eye on how these reforms are developed and the eventual timeliness of their implementation as this continues to be a significant shortcoming across all governments,” the report said.
“The committee urges, as a matter of the utmost importance, to work effectively together and to get the job done expeditiously. The committee will also continue to monitor the progress of the BMF, its review, and also its ongoing work on the issues of non-conforming and non-compliant building products.”
The committee received an extension on August 17, 2017 for two further stages in its reporting. It is now aiming to present an interim report on the illegal importation of asbestos-containing building products on 31 October, and a final report for the entire inquiry by April 30 2018.
In addition to cladding and asbestos, other non-conforming products the inquiry has heard evidence on including steel products, insulation, cabling, imported engineered structural plywood and glazing.
The Australian Institute of Architects has indicated support for all of the committee’s initial recommendations.
National President Richard Kirk said the AIA believes the bar should be raised across the board with increased transparency and accountability for all participants throughout the vast and complex supply and construction chains.
“The built environment is an area where regulation is not only appropriate but necessary. Cutting red tape cannot and should not come at the expense of people’s safety,” Mr Kirk said.
“We want to see compliance and enforcement mechanisms strengthened across jurisdictions to properly protect all Australians in their homes, workplaces and in our public spaces.”
AIA CEO Jennifer Cunich said that if the recommendations are implemented, it will “go a long way to addressing many of the issues that architects have identified over an extended period.”
The committee’s interim report and public submissions to the inquiry are available on-line here.
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