After years of federal government inquiries, reports, hand-wringing and head-shaking over dodgy building products, the Queensland government has leapt over the competition with a new set of building product safety rules.
They are designed to be comprehensive and catch everyone in the net – from tradies to designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and installers.
Minister for housing and public works Mick de Brenni said new chain of responsibility legislation for non-conforming building products would apply to the entire building product supply chain to ensure building products are safe and fit for their intended purpose.
Building product non-conformity and non-compliance had been the focus of the national Building Ministers’ Forum last year – but despite multiple inquiries and reports, no action has yet been taken at a federal level.
The second incarnation of the Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Products also seems to have gone into hibernation.
“Queensland has spearheaded reform across the country, filling the space left negligently vacant by the Turnbull government,” Mr de Brenni said.
“The Commonwealth has failed to build a regime that protects Queenslanders from these harmful products, despite ongoing pressure, so our state has no choice but to take this significant action.”
Mr de Brenni said the issue had been highlighted with the Lacrosse fire in 2014, which was caused by non-compliant use of a flammable cladding product, and by the revelation of the non-compliant Infinity brand electrical cables installed around the nation.
“The proliferation of cheap, imported, substandard products entering our country is a risk to the health and safety of all Queenslanders,” Mr de Brenni said.
“These laws will close the doors to importers dumping dodgy products onto Queensland building sites.”
He said non-conforming products were a risk to Queenslanders when they went to work in an office tower, attended events in public places, visited major shopping centres and even in their private homes.
Mr de Brenni said the new laws would also allow Queensland Building and Construction Commission officers to inspect buildings, take samples for testing and direct rectifications.
“Presently, the QBCC can inspect only active building sites – these changes will substantially expand the powers the QBCC has,” he said.
“The changes will also allow the state government to recall products that are non-conforming, and issue warnings about them.”
News welcomed by industry bodies
The Building Products Innovation Council welcomed the new laws.
“The building products industry has, for many years, been warning of the dangers and consequences of lax building regulations in Queensland,” BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre said.
“Now that these serious problems have come to pass, it is encouraging to see the Queensland government taking a tough and decisive stand on building and construction practices that have eroded public confidence in the building sector and cost consumers and insurers multi-millions of dollars in rectification works.”
She said the building products industry was pleased the Queensland government had listened to the concerns its members have expressed.
“While the rest of the country appears to be doing little of practical benefit to control the spread of NCBPs, Queensland now leads the nation, and in doing so reduces the risks and costs to the public and the building industry,” Ms McIntyre said.
She said NCBPs in a building were a nightmare for consumers, because they were usually only discovered in certain situations, such as where damage to the building results from the sudden failure of the product or where the poor durability of the product is revealed through its inability to resist reasonable wear and tear.
This causes considerable cost to the consumer or asset owners, as the product needs to be identified, removed and replaced with a compliant product that meets the appropriate standards.
Owners may also be faced with associated 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 the building is sub-standard.
Dave Gover, chief executive of the Engineered Wood Products Association, said another aspect of the regulators being “given teeth” to deal with NCBPs was around workplace health and safety on construction sites.
There have been multiple incidences of plywood used for formwork not being up to the required standard and exposing workers to risk.
“Poor quality formwork is a huge risk,” Mr Gover said.
He said the Queensland laws supported the whole building products industry, and would possibly have an impact on the quality of construction.
Though it remains to be seen, he said, whether the building inspection process that emerges from the current review of the state’s building legislation will be adequate in terms of ensuring buildings are compliant in their materials.
“If the process is independent and accountable, that is really what is needed.”
Mr Gover said that the “vast majority” of our domestic building products industry that have had a long-term commitment to manufacturing conforming products and gaining third-party certification were meeting the relevant.
Third-party certification was important as a means of verifying product compliance, he said.
Independent testing has shown that the majority of producers with third-party certification are “reliably and repeatedly” making conforming products.
Where the products don’t have independent third-party certification, however, the results were less likely to be conforming, he said.
Mr de Brenni said amendments to the Building and Construction Legislation (Non-Conforming Building Products-Chain of Responsibility and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2017 were expected to be in place before the end of the year.