Everyone involved in multi-residential and mixed-use construction projects in NSW only has until July 1 to get up to speed on NSW Government construction reforms. The changes to design workflows, professional licensing requirements, and the verification of compliance with the Building Code of Australia will affect most key trades, project engineers, and design consultants. Here is what you need to know.
Implementing the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 is a major change from business-as-usual for apartment and mixed-use design and delivery. The new rules focus on practitioners and subcontractors designing and delivering works with the highest risk in terms of non-compliance and defects.
That includes architects, building designers, civil engineering, drainage, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, structural engineering, fire engineering, fire safety systems, vertical transportation and geotechnical engineering.
Professional Credentials Become Essential
Those undertaking design as part of their scope of works while being engaged in Class 2 projects will be required to register as a practitioner. Applicants will need to provide evidence of qualifications and experience, and they’ll have to complete two mandatory online CPD courses relating to the regulations and the importance of Australian Standards. Maintaining registration will also require the annual completion of approved CPD and adherence to a new Code of Practice.
There are also new requirements for all consultants and trades engaged in delivering the building envelope, waterproofing, structure and any electrical, plumbing or mechanical systems that need to comply with the BCA. They will need to produce detailed designs that are declared as compliant by a registered design practitioner before building work commences.
Subcontractors’ practice will also be largely affected by the requirement to codify the work they do and lift practices to the level of the applicable standards, explains Angus Abadee, Director, Building and Construction Policy, Better Regulation Division of the NSW Government Department of Customer Service.
The requirements around registration and licensing will also mean both builders and subcontractors will need to ensure their employees are competent under the specified demonstrations of competency.
Plan, Don’t Improvise
Abadee says that in some ways, the industry has taken a “choose your own adventure” approach to detailed design, delivery and credentialing.
“There was a lack of oversight and a lack of clear delineation of responsibility,” he says.
As a result, the track record for defects in the multi-residential sector has caused a dramatic decline in public confidence in the industry. Many of the most common defects, including waterproofing defects, structural defects and fire protection system faults, are directly attributable to a failure to design in accordance with the rules and subcontractor works.
The reforms aim to address the risk factors not only in terms of inspections of the finished work but also by ensuring work plans are appropriate.
“While a good installation is critical [for compliance and quality], good designs being developed before building work begins will be the biggest improvement,” Abadee says.
The builder will need to lodge copies of all specified designs before beginning any building work, each signed off by a registered and competent designer. The relevant standards applicable to each design element must also be cited, including how the designs meet the requirements of the BCA.
Integrate the Project Team
There is a deeper shift occurring also. The new requirements mean an integrated approach to design that encompasses all key building systems, structural components and building envelope assemblies.
According to Abadee, this holistic approach to building design and delivery is more aligned with the broader trend of considering the whole building lifecycle, including how it will operate from the early design stage.
The detailed design approach is also strongly aligned with early team integration delivery methods. Studies have shown that bringing together all the major consultants and subcontractors during the early design stage benefits the project in terms of early clash detection, improved efficiencies in the program, and a more cohesive project culture.
Lodging the Final Designs is Not the End of the Checks and Balances
Abadee says there will be a comprehensive audit process commencing in the months after 1 July. This process will identify designers, builders, or subcontractors whose plans have not been sufficiently detailed or have not addressed the required standards. It will also capture any completed works that do not match the approved final designs. Those practitioners will be held to account.
As part of the digital architecture supporting the reforms, the work of subcontractors and consultants is tracked within the system. This translates to builders and regulators having oversight and transparency around subcontractor performance, defect rates, and compliance.
Legally, the final responsibility still lies with the person who caused the defect (often the builder) should there be defects caused by construction identified during the building warranty period. However, the ability to identify the subcontractors involved will mean regulators, builders, and the end customer will have a clear picture of which subcontractors or consultants not to engage in future.