9-11 May 2023
ICC Sydney

The Built Environment Quarterly Review | Compliance Matters

Following the tragic fires at Grenfell, London and Lacrosse, Melbourne, compliance within the building and construction sector has brought fire management and waterproofing to the forefront.

Ahead of their appearance at DesignBUILD 2022, we talk to NATSPEC’s CEO, Richard Choy and the CSIRO’s Manager Verification Services, Infrastructure Technologies, Tracey Gramlick, on how compliance and conformity are impacting our industry in 2022.

1. Are we in a better place than five years ago?

Richard: For the majority I would say yes. I’m a fan of Queensland’s Chain of Responsibility regulation as it removes the ‘silos of responsibility’ that have allowed issues to fall between the cracks, or the blind expectation that ‘it is someone else’s responsibility’.

However, it is important for the whole of industry to keep pace with the regulatory and Standards changes that directly affect that person’s role. The designer does not need to know the detail of the relevant Standard for manufacturing, but they do need to request the appropriate test or conformance or compliance certification, and take some responsibility when something looks wrong.

Tracey: I’ve been fighting this fight for over 20 years. And I think at the moment, we’re in a better condition. Yes, there’s a lot more to do, but we’re heading in the right direction. Since the pandemic, I’ve found there’s a lot more concentration on making sure that things actually comply and are accredited. And because the government has pumped a lot of money into the economy on big infrastructure, they’ve actually raised the bar in accreditation certification. They know that there’s a better chance they’re not going to have to pay further down the track.

2. What are the key changes?

Richard: Since the fires, a number of regulatory responses have been developed in answer to the 2018 Building Confidence Report and I think now the majority of the industry understands the importance of compliance and conformance across all aspects of their project.

More recently, The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) released its handbook Performance Solution Process jointly with the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors in 2021. Blindly accepting product and assembly test and conformance certificates to overseas standards is not acceptable if the National Construction Code references the Australian Standard.  There are differences in local regulations, local conditions and local construction practices, while COVID-related supply chain issues will remain with us for years.

“All practitioners and builders must not succumb to accepting cheap and inferior products,” Richard Choy, NATSPEC.

Tracey: There are a lot of large industry leaders looking at circular economies and supply chains and how to tie these things in. We’re also talking about whether products are fit for the purpose they are certified for, so we can avoid the tragic cladding issues of the past. Good things are happening too, with changes to the standards very quick to come online with recent events like the bushfires and testing fire facades.

At the CSIRO, we’ve written three new specifications for waterproofing, because testing and checking in this area is becoming a lot stricter. We’re also setting up a scheme to audit, certify and accredit companies that lay waterproofing products or membranes. Water is what I call ‘the silent death’ because the list of things that can occur is absolutely shocking. Finally, we’re seeing emerging tech such as barcoding and QR codes, as well as 3D printing offering the ability to cost, test and design before products are marketed.

3. What are you seeing on the ground?

Richard: Slowly the industry is learning that both compliance and conformance needs to be documented and enforced, and the importance of building specification for compliance documentation is coming back to the forefront for architects and building designers. If their specification is lacking in detail or out of date, they will not be satisfying their duty of care as a professional. Expecting the builder to take on the compliance and conformance obligations is not acceptable and, in some states, illegal.

Tracey: We’ve got the people in play, from the NCC at the beginning and the certifiers and surveyors at the end. And in between, we have product testing, standards, auditing, people and architects designing systems and engineers signing off – all coming together. But there just doesn’t seem to be that ability to convert to the end and be satisfied that everything is in place. So, I think it’s a huge education piece where we promote better compliance, which is crucial and we are doing that.

But we also must make people responsible for doing it, and I think accountability has been a missing piece. It may cost a little bit more – the rule of thumb is that roughly it costs around seven times to replace something than it is to get it right in the first place. But when you have the main decision makers in the building and construction process often not the final or the end users, it’s more about shareholder value and return on investment, rather than looking at the human cost and the retrospective costs.

“I think compliance needs to be a way of life, and something we do rather than something we have to do,” Tracey Gramlick, CSIRO.

Article by: Annie Reid

Hear more from both Richard and Tracey at the free-to-attend education program at Total Facilities 2022, register free online here to connect with them this May!
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