Joint government and industry-backed organisation NATSPEC is tackling the issue of non-conforming products by setting up a National Construction Products Register.

The register will be made freely available to consultants, contractors and others so they can assess whether a proposed substitute product has proper, validated evidence that it meets Australian Standards.

Chief executive of NATSPEC Richard Choy said the initiative aimed to mitigate the risks posed by the increasing number of non-conforming products.

Between 2006 and 2012, for example, there were increasing reports of products that did not meet standards including high-tensile steel bolts, structural steel bolts, structural plywood products, copper pipe tubing, fire collars and glass sheets.

In the past few years issues have also been identified with electrical cable, combustible facade cladding used in a non-compliant manner and products containing asbestos.

Some of the non-conforming products have inadequate or false evidence of conformance to the applicable standards and regulations, Mr Choy said.

These products that have been entering the Australian market have been identified as affecting the safety and quality of Australian construction.

Mr Choy said the register was expected to be available as an online searchable database by the end of this year.

“Like NATSPEC’s other projects, including the National BIM Guide, the project is for the betterment of the industry as a whole,” he said.

He said the NCPR also aimed to generate greater awareness among designers, specifiers, contractors and manufacturers of the importance of product conformity.

The initiative is supported by both government and industry stakeholders including the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association of Australia, Australian Institute of Building, Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Consult Australia, Engineers Australia, Master Builders Australia and Standards Australia.

Mr Choy said one of the reasons the increased rate of non-conforming product use had come about was due to the use of the term “or similar” in project documentation when products were specified.

“The term should be ‘or approved alternative’,” he said.

“Similar means nothing. You have to define the quality required, and if you do require substitution due to cost, availability or changes in technology, the same level of quality must be required.

“Someone has to take responsibility for that.”

There was also less attention given to stringent checking of product specifications by a project’s clerk of works, he said.

The design and construct contract model, where the architect is novated to the contractor, also means architects generally are not given oversight of final product specifications when they are procured and brought on site, Mr Choy said.

Mr Choy said contractors were responsible for delivering an asset according to the specifications, but the reality in the industry was that there has been too much focus on cost and not on quality.

Undercutting fees and tender price has become standard practice.

“Everything gets back to the clarity of the documentation and the clarity of definitions,” he said.

The NCPR will provide some “economy of scale” for checking conformance of products.

As an opt-in voluntary register, it will not be duplicating existing registers such as the plumbing industry’s Watermark system, or the electrical industries EESS databases.

Mr Choy said that in the current industry, clients also needed to go into procurement in an informed manner. This is not always the case.

He said the checking system NATSPEC will be applying to products proposed for the register will rely predominantly on test results from NATA-accredited facilities and JAS-ANZ accredited certifiers. Where a product has different evidence, this will be noted on the register.

“We have to be careful we are not restricting trade.”

Mr Choy said that should a product be proven to be non-conforming in future, it will be red-flagged within the register, for example, with a link to a media release.

The bottom line for clients – and builders, specifiers and others – should be that if a product does not conform or cannot prove it conforms, it should not be acceptable, he said.

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