BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre

The Building Products Innovation Council is calling for changes to evidence of suitability provisions in the National Construction Code to counter the growing issues of non-conforming and non-compliant building products.

An industry position paper has been released, which incorporates input from BPIC members and also the Australian Institute of Architects, Engineers Australia, PrefabAUS, Fire Protection Association of Australia, Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries, Bureau of Steel Manufacturers of Australia, CSR, Bluescope and the National Association of Steel-Framed Housing.

The paper says the current provisions in the NCC – the A2 provisions – have not changed much since the first 1988 edition of the Building Code of Australia. Because the market has evolved considerably since then, the paper argues a review of the provisions is required.

Changes in the market and the building supply chain include the growing number of offshore products being purchased via the internet. The paper says that a rapidly growing number of suppliers and buyers are “seeking to use the code and verification weaknesses to deliberately substitute or provide substandard products”.

“The desire by some developers, builders and key purchasing decision makers to reduce construction costs may also conflict with their obligation to deliver compliant and safe buildings.”

It also says recent building fires have led to a “false public and government perception” that products that are inherently dangerous are being used in buildings.

“BPIC and the wider building products industry wishes to make it clear that the issue is actually about conforming products that are used in inappropriate designs and forms of construction (non-compliant applications),” the paper says.

“While the NCC evidence of suitability provisions have until now focused on ensuring that products meet minimum standards and code compliance, far less emphasis has been placed on ensuring that products are used only for the purposes for which they are intended. This is a significant weakness in the current A2 provisions that requires immediate attention.”

BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre said the A2 review by the Australian Building Codes Board now underway would address the serious issues non-conforming and non-compliant building products create for homebuyers.

“This is a serious issue for homebuyers because it means they are not getting what they pay for and there can be high costs involved in having fraudulent products identified, removed and replaced,” Ms McIntyre said.

“Owners may also be faced with further costs such as being deprived of using some or all of their buildings, higher insurance premiums and potentially reduced property values as a result of the perception that their building is sub-standard.”

Ms McIntyre said non-conforming products also created a “grossly uneven market”, because the manufacturers of conforming products were trying to compete against others selling non-conforming, inferior and potentially dangerous products.

Those selling non-conforming products may also be operating without important insurances such as recall insurance, she said.

Another issue the paper identifies is a reduced level of oversight during the construction process by independent and experienced practitioners.

This is one of the ways the non-compliant use of products can occur and not be found until it is too late, such as the cladding installations found during the Victorian Building Authority’s audit of recent high-rise projects in Melbourne.

Another weakness in the current A2 provisions identified in the paper is loose wording that enables product substitution to take place during construction, with insufficient proof required to demonstrate the substitution is conforming to the same standards as the product specified.

“Management of the building product supply chain is a national issue as building products are not affected by state and territory borders,” Ms McIntyre said.

“Australian building regulations, especially the NCC, should clearly outline the type of evidence of suitability required for building products, materials, designs and systems.”

She said the most fundamental problem was that the majority of building products do not require any form of approval or have any requirement to attest to their performance and fitness for purpose prior to being offered for sale.

The industry paper says proof of suitability at point of sale, and clear English language instructions for compliant use, are two things revised A2 provisions could require.

“What we want is a level playing field in the building industry for all participants,” Ms McIntyre said.

“We are looking forward to working closely with the A2 review team from the Australian Building Codes Board to help modernise the NCC to cope with a supply chain environment where we see an increased use of offshore product sourcing and decreasing levels of local manufacturing.”