Non-compliance is a major issue in the Australian building sector. This article examines the scale of the problem and how you can avoid non-compliance.
A non-compliant building product is not necessarily one that is non-conforming. Yet, it is one that’s used incorrectly in regard to regulations. Building codes, such as the National Construction Code (NCC), outline these uses.
Unfortunately, Australia has a major non-compliance issue. There are many stories of non-compliance in the media. It seems that these have occurred more often since the acceleration of high-rise construction.
Non-compliance causes a host of issues for your projects.
The most obvious is a quality problem. Failure to follow regulations compromises the integrity of your buildings. So too does failing to use suitable building products. This can damage your firm’s reputation.
There is also the safety issue. Regulations exist to protect the occupants of the buildings that you create. Non-compliance can put those occupants at risk. In the worst-case scenario, severe non-compliance can lead to injury or even death.
Finally, your firm may face legal ramifications if you fail to use compliant building products.
Examples of Non-Compliance
Non-compliance has become a growing concern. This is due to the many cases of it occurring throughout the country.
To show the extent of the problem, let’s look at some recent cases of non-compliance.
The Opal Tower offers one of the more harrowing examples of the dangers of non-compliance.
The tower is the result of a $165 million investment. Located in Homebush, Sydney, it is 36 stories tall. That means it must be able to withstand high wind speeds. Plus, it must ensure the safety of hundreds of residents.
Unfortunately, structural issues began to surface on Christmas Eve in 2018.
Cracks began appearing in a pre-cast panel located 10 stories up in the tower. This led to the order to evacuate, which pulled hundreds of people out of the tower’s apartments and offices.
Even worse, those who evacuated were not allowed back into the building. Investigators needed to check the cause of the cracks before allowing people back in. That left many people out of their homes the day before Christmas.
Public opinion has soured on the tower for many reasons. First, the two-bedroom units in the towers sold for almost $1 million apiece. This is a luxury development, yet it is clear that non-compliance has occurred.
Residents were also upset with how the building company conducted its investigation. One reported that the builders left their belongings strewn all over the floor. Plus, they had received no notification that the builders would engage in any work.
There is no official word on the cause of the crack. However, it is likely that non-compliance is an issue. In fact, Welding Technology Institute of Australia member Groff Crittenden points to a potential issue. He says that 85% of the fabricated steel that Australia imports each year is non-compliant.
Such steel may have seen use in Opal Tower.
Now, those who built the tower have a reputational issue to deal with. Plus, the evacuation shows that non-compliance may have put many of the tower’s residents at risk.
The Landmark Buildings Problem
The Opal Tower issue cast a new light on the issue of non-compliance. In January 2018, two Sydney-based businessmen cast suspicions on other buildings in the area.
In fact, they claim that up to 18 historic buildings in Maitland are not compliant. Furthermore, they suggest that the issue may even affect McDonald Jones Stadium.
The men are the founders of a company called BlockAid, which claims to provide a solution to the problem.
They have conducted masonry work tests on 18 buildings. Worse yet, they say that they have hit a 100% strike rate of non-compliance.
Specifically, they have looked at the placement of rebar within reinforced masonry walls. Using a device called a Profoscope, they checked for the presence and location of this rebar. The results showed that each building had one of two issues. Either the bars got placed incorrectly. Or the bars shifted after filling.
This compromises the integrity of the masonry. And this creates the possibility of crack and rust. If left unchecked, the issue could even lead to collapses.
If true, the findings cast further aspersions on certifying practices. They also highlight a need to improve in all areas of compliance. This ranges from adherence to regulations through to enforcement.
How You Can Avoid Non-Compliance
There are all sorts of potential reasons given for this rise in non-compliance.
A 2018 report published by the Building Ministers’ Forum suggests that certifiers should shoulder the blame. It claims that many believe that certifiers are not independent enough from builders. Thus, they may provide biased certifications.
However, some within the industry point to different issues.
Engineers Australia member Robert Hart says that this report misses the point. He pointed to a 2016 report that Engineers Australia commissioned as evidence of a wider problem. Hart says that the NSW government chose not to install 100+ changes that the report recommended.
It is difficult to assign blame for the issue. In fact, it seems as though there are problems in all aspects of compliance. From regulation through to certification, industry experts have highlighted issues.
What can you do to avoid running into compliance issues in your next project? Here are a few suggestions that may help.
Tip #1 – Look for Certification
While the NCC does not provide certification for building products, there are some organisations that do.
One of these is the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB).
The ABCB operates two voluntary certification schemes focused on conformance. Conformance and compliance are two different things. However, ensuring you use conforming products increases your chance of creating compliant structures.
Look for one of the two certifications that the ABCB offer. These include the following:
- CodeMark – This covers building products. It established a minimum standard that the product must reach.
- WaterMark – This certification covers draining and plumbing products. Again, it sets a minimum standard for the products.
Beyond these certification schemes, there are other certifications to look out for. These include the following:
- A certificate from an appropriate professional, such as an engineer.
- A Certificate of Accreditation from the appropriate Territory or State authority.
- Reports that a registered testing organisation issues.
- Certification from an organisation that has approval from the JAS-ANZ. This is the Joint Accreditation Scheme of Australia and New Zealand.
A product that does not carry one of these certifications is not necessarily non-compliant. However, you can feel more confident in using the product if it does. That is because the product has undergone independent testing.
Tip #2 – Learn More About Compliance
There is an argument that many of today’s compliance issues stem from builders having to self-regulate.
As a result, a lack of understanding of what compliance is can cause issues.
A non-compliant building product is one that is used in a way that doesn’t comply with the NCC’s requirements. There may also be state laws that you need to adhere to in order to maintain compliance.
An example of this is the use of a combustible product in a situation where the NCC requires a non-combustible product. In this case, the product is not fit for the purpose that it’s used for. Hence, it becomes non-compliant.
Again, the product itself may conform. It is in its usage that it becomes non-compliant.
This example calls to mind the cladding issue that befell the Lacrosse Building in 2014. In this case, you could argue that a non-conforming product got used in a non-compliant way.
The key is that all builders need to educate themselves on compliance. You need to understand the NCC’s regulations, as well as any local laws.
Tip #3 – Report Instances of Non-Compliance and Non-Conformance
The sheer extent of non-compliance that some suggest takes place in the industry raises another concern.
It seems likely that many firms do not report instances of non-compliance.
This may be because they do not necessarily know that they’re using a non-compliant product. Fraudulent certification or credentials could lead to this. However, it is also possible that some firms knowingly use such products.
This allows them to spread throughout the industry.
A lack of reporting tells manufacturers that they can continue creating non-compliant products. It may also create confusion about what is and is not compliant.
Each state maintains an office for dealing with non-conforming and non-compliant building products. If you believe you have run into an issue, report it.
This increases the chances of the non-compliant product getting taken off the market. That means you are not going to end up using it again.
The Final Word
Unfortunately, the non-compliance issue does not have an easy solution. Issues exist on both the regulatory and certification sides. Plus, many argue that there is too much responsibility placed on builders. They need to understand compliance and essentially self-regulate.
With the help of the above tips, you can lower the risk of non-compliance in your projects.
It all starts with finding the right suppliers.
Safetyline Jalousie is one such supplier. Our louvre windows have undergone extensive testing to ensure they are both conforming and compliant.
To find out more, or to learn how louvre windows may benefit your project, contact one of our business managers today.
The real costs of installing non-confirming and non-compliant building products. – CSR
Non-confirming building products – NSW Government / Fair Trading