It is not just tougher policy that can tackle the risks of non-conforming building products and non-compliant product use. Everyone’s got a role to play.
Distinctions and Definitions
First of all, let us make a clear distinction between non-conforming and non-compliant. The former means the product does not meet applicable Australian standards, like the faulty insulation in the now-recalled Infinity brand electrical cables. Non-compliant, on the other hand, refers to the fact the product has been used in a manner that does not meet the requirements of the National Construction Code. In the case of the cladding on Lacrosse Tower, for example, the use of the product on the external facade of the building was not compliant with the code.
Junk Products Primary to the Problem
Executive Officer of the Building Products Innovation Council, Rodger Hills, said that in Australia we are suffering from a “deluge of junk building products”.
“Substandard glass in 50 Collins St Melbourne is estimated to have cost $18 million to rectify. Expensive glass panels at the headquarters of spy agency ASIO are falling out and hundreds of windows and doors manufactured in China for the Ararat prison project arrived on site cut to wrong sizes, making them useless,” Hills said. “There have been recalls on electrical wiring used throughout the country. Toxic levels of formaldehyde have been found in imported composite boards used in domestic kitchens and in formwork.
“Steel strapping and bracing used in timber framing have been found to have substandard galvanisation coating, compromising the durability of the product. Non-conforming showers and plumbing products are being sold everywhere. Poorly fabricated steel is a major problem and the list goes on and on and on.”
Time for Change
Chief Executive of the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia, Dave Gover, said there have been cases where non-conforming imported kitchen cabinetry has been installed in multi-residential apartments.
“There is a huge need for a public conversation on what certification and conforming product use means.”
This leads to serious problems. Since the apartment has been shut up and is airtight, when the plumber goes in to undertake work, “as soon as they open the door their eyes start watering” due to the levels of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds being emitted.
“There is a huge need for a public conversation on what certification and conforming product use means,” he said.
Gover said those sourcing products need to have confidence the paperwork that accompanies materials “lines up” to the material and that there is a robust audit process in place for the quality processes of manufacturers.
What constitutes effective testing is something the “industry needs to get its head around,” Gover said.
When to Ask for Help
Hills said that in the past buyers relied on the advice of technical professionals, such as architects or engineers, to guide them on product selection and supply channels.
“These days, such professional advice is often seen as an unnecessary burden or expense, particularly where many buildings are constructed as design-and-construct,” Hills said.
However, builders and contractors may have limited specific product performance experience. In some cases, they may even be self-assessing their own imported products and equipment.
Where to be Weary
Hills said that the intentional manipulation or counterfeiting of product certification documentation has also become “big business”. It can take the form of “golden sampling”, where manufacturers submit non-representative products to a registered testing authority and use the results to market their products,” said Hill. “Suppliers might use testing authorities that appear to be legitimate but aren’t, or might test products to a standard that appears to be equivalent to one referenced in the NCC , but isn’t.
“Product labelling can be selective, incomplete, misleading or just plain wrong and there is no recourse to the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) because the majority of building products are not covered under consumer law.”
How to Mitigate Risk
There are ways a contractor or subcontractor can reduce the risks associated with both NCBPs and non-compliant product use.
For a start, there are a number of third-party certified quality assurance schemes, including the Australian Building Codes Board “Code Mark” and “Water Mark” schemes.
“Builders and buyers need to be more aware of the standards that products should meet.”
Engineered timber manufacturer Hyne Timber has its glued laminated timber products certified by Bureau Veritas under the “S Mark” product certification scheme. Other products carrying the ‘S’ Mark certification include structural timber, steel reinforcement, safety glass, pipes and fittings, child restraints, buoyancy aids, and safety footwear.
Rob Mansell, Hyne Timber’s Business Development Manager – Commercial, said such certification makes it easier to demonstrate compliance with Standards for regulatory purposes.
“Our GLT customers need to demonstrate they are specifying conforming products. The ‘S’ Mark provides them with this proof,” Mansell said..”Our ‘S’ Mark certification follows scrutiny by accredited timber experts and we believe this approach is the future of product certification.”
Hills said the validation of compliance with relevant codes needs to become a responsibility for everyone in the supply chain.
“Builders and buyers need to be more aware of the standards that products should meet,” he said. “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.”
Time to Put Your Foot Down
Hills said contractors should make it abundantly clear to suppliers and sub-contractors there is a zero-tolerance policy on both non-conforming products and non-compliant use them, which can be included in work contracts.
Contractors should make it abundantly clear to suppliers and sub-contractors there is a zero-tolerance policy on both non-conforming products and non-compliant use.
“Don’t let sub-contractors install anything without checking out the materials and products they are using first-hand and preferably spot-check their work to make sure they continue to install what you expect them to be installing,” Hills said.
He said that anyone that discovers or suspects an instance of non-conforming product or a compliant product used in the wrong application should do something about it and report it.This is no longer difficult, as the Australian Building Codes Board has set up a new reporting portal and information hub that enables sending anonymous reports.
The Chair of the Building Ministers’ Forum and Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Craig Laundy, said the federal government will work with state and territory governments through the BMF to develop a national response to address risks around the non-compliant installation of building products.