In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in the UK and the Lacrosse building fire in Victoria, the government as well as the building and construction supply chain need to make a concerted effort to ensure safe and compliant use of building products, according to Master Builders Australia.
The two disasters have highlighted the importance of a regulatory system that has the confidence of both the community and the building industry, said Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia.
However, Wawn said the challenge is to make more effective the extensive and robust regulatory regime that ensures the safe use of building products, Wawn said.
“This is fundamentally the responsibility of government. But requires a concerted effort from all those in the building and construction supply chain,” she said.
A national taskforce established by Master Builders and comprised of experts from across Australia is progressing policy reforms that support quality and safety of homes, workplaces, hospitals and other public buildings, Wawn said.
Master Builders has been calling for a range of reforms that applies to the whole building supply chain, according to Wawn, and she said this includes the need for a centrally administered building product certification system with clear, accessible information and improved rigor and enforcement of the current regulations.
“Ensuring that everyone in the construction chain – manufacturers, designers, importers, wholesalers, regulators and builders – has access to clear, consistent and readily available (and reliable) information about building products will assist to reduce the incidence of them being used in a non-compliant way,” she said.
Some of the responses by government so far include draft amendments to the National Construction Code around fire safety and the online information hub established by the Australian Building Codes Board.
The Australian Steel Institute (ASI) echoed Wawn’s comments, and said early and independent verification should be standard practice for all safety-critical building products.
It is much better to specify to recognised quality benchmarks and provide tools to help ensure compliant outcomes from the beginning to reduce pressure at the end of the building process and deliver better outcomes, said ASI chief executive, Tony Dixon.
“The current regulatory system confuses who is ultimately responsible,” he said.
“And the existing ‘big stick’ at the end of the process when building certification is enacted is problematic as it is too late and often too costly to address issues properly.
“Third-party certification of building products and processes to requirements directly linked to the level of risk and complexity of a building under construction is the most appropriate way to ensure risk of building failure is minimised.”
He pointed out that the Australasian Procurement Construction Council’s recent Procurement of Construction Products guide also recommended third-party certification as an apt solution.
“It is not necessary that governments create these tools, but they should encourage and support their development and adoption by ensuring that procurement policy supports third-party certification and auditing of processes to ensure it happens,” Dixon said.
He also suggested that the National Construction Code (NCC) should be configured to promote the concept of risk-based, fit-for-purpose classification of construction products, perhaps utilising a classification scheme such as that adopted in the recently published standard, AS/NZS 5131 covering steelwork fabrication and erection.
“Currently in the NCC, risk is quantified only in relation to certain load types. It should also be quantified on the resistance (product capacity) side of the equation by introducing an apt classification scheme,” he said.
He also cited product certification registers, such as the one recently started up by NATSPEC, as valuable tools along with other reporting schemes, such as an avenue for confidential reporting of building failures to facilitate responsible disclosures as operate in other developed markets.
“At the end of the day, it’s not only more efficient to responsibly supply upfront, but there should be no question that prevention is better than cure when so many lives are at stake,” he said.