The media has been rife with stories about non-conforming building products – poor insulation in particular – but according to at least one industry leader there will be no real action until we get third-party certification.
According to chairman of Insulation Australasia Scott Gibson this will be the only way to be certain you are getting what you paid for.
Gibson says the risks of using non-conforming products are legion, including reputational damage, building failure, increased fire risks, poorly performing buildings and erosion of property values.
The problem is the extent of gaming of test results, misleading statements of performance and counterfeiting of paperwork in the industry, he says.
“While there are many good manufacturers, there is a plethora of fly-by-night trading companies and importers bringing in products that are less than the standards require,” Gibson says.
Gibson is also the managing director of Kingspan Insulation, and says the company’s technical department has uncovered numerous examples of false claims, overstated thermal performance, doctored testing documents, golden sampling methods and fraudulent product labelling.
Unfortunately, none of the authorities to which the company has reported non-conforming products have taken action, he says. The Victorian Building Authority, for example, said it was a matter for the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission. The ACCC said it was a matter for the Victorian Building Authority. The VBA then said it was a matter for Consumer Affairs in the Victorian Department of Justice, and that department said it was not within its capacity to investigate.
The Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Building Products equally proved something of a dead-end, seeking one final extension to report, which was granted, until two weeks after the double dissolution resulted in the Inquiry being disbanded. Senator Xenophon’s office has declined to confirm whether the senator plans to see the inquiry re-established.
“All we see is headlines by ministers and no one doing a thing,” Gibson says.
For the legitimate industry players, this is frustrating, and for builders and certifiers it means the only protection they have against dodgy products is ensuring the paperwork is checked.
The third party system used for certification of product performance and meeting of applicable standards needs to be one that is JAS-ANZ accredited, Gibson says. Any testing needs to be undertaken by a facility that is accredited by NATA or an equivalent offshore source of oversight.
Insulation Australasia has proposed a product conformance scheme that would make third-party certification mandatory for insulation products sold in Australia.
Gibson says broad estimates put the cost of such a scheme to trade at less than one per cent, considerably less than the costs incurred by the industry and building owners when non-conforming product is installed in hospitals, shopping centres or private homes.
“Their house is the most expensive thing most people buy in their lives,” he says.
“And the public invest in large infrastructure buildings like hospitals – they deserve to know that safe and effective products have been used.
“The only way to provide adequate consumer protection and a level playing field for manufacturers is through the protection offered by a third party certification.”
The Building Products Innovation Council, which includes associations representing insulation products, also advocates strongly for action on non-conforming products.
BPIC chair Elizabeth McIntyre says the organisation supports the need for many building products to be certified under third-party public or private schemes that comply with AS 17065, including JAS-ANZ.
“This is currently one pathway under the BCA requirements,” McIntyre says.
“A number of BPIC members have established schemes which meet these requirements to assist their members and the building industry have confidence in the products certified under those schemes.”
In terms of validating compliance, McIntyre says it is a matter for everyone in the building supply chain.
“Builders and buyers need to be more aware of the standards products should meet. Manufacturers and suppliers need to ensure they can provide proof that products meet the relevant standards and as part of the building approval process, building certifiers should be requiring information that shows products meet these standards.”
Where a company has knowingly placed products on the market that are not “fit for purpose” in terms of the NCC or other applicable codes, the ACCC does have scope to act in relation to claims of false and misleading conduct, McIntyre says.
However their powers are limited and successful findings do not always lead to a product being withdrawn from the market place.
“The ACCC and the state counterparts should have the ability to act on decisions by the ACCC and have building products removed from the market place when they are found to be non-conforming.”
Not only do non-fit-for-purpose products hurt complying businesses, they also create downstream costs and safety concerns that are ultimately borne by building owners and taxpayers.
And rectifying work is time consuming, costly and unproductive.
Worse is that many consumers only find out there are non-conforming products in their building when there has been damage to the building, for example when the product fails or where it has poor durability.
There are also associated costs such as being deprived of using some or all of a building, higher insurance premiums and potentially lower property values.
McIntyre says BPIC strongly supports the re-establishment of the Senate Inquiry into Non-Conforming Building Products.
“BPIC members are raising this issue with a range of government, opposition and independent politicians to seek support to reconvene the inquiry,” she says.
The organisation’s members are also committed to improving standards and code compliance within their respective industries, she says, while also ensuring that manufacturers are responsible for the quality of products they produce and the claims they make about the performance of those products.