Concerns about non-compliant building products
We delve into the complex role of compliance within a post COVID-19 world, and how weakening standards would affect the industry.
Advocates for safe building products in the Australian construction industry have long campaigned for more effective regulation to stamp out the use of non-compliant building products.
While that achieved some good results in recent years, the economic fallout due to COVID-19 threatens to undermine this work.
Rodger Hills, Executive Officer of the Building Products Industry Council, says: “There has been some shortage of supply of building materials for construction and the economic fallout from the crisis has had a hard economic effect on some sectors of the industry, particularly those related to home building.” According to The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup), the Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index dropped 17.9 points to 35.8 in April, the largest fall in recorded history.
This decline in activity has caused some in the industry to demand a relaxation of important construction industry reform to avoid further economic impact. “We’ve seen the Master Builders Association publicly calling for a pause on regulatory reform, claiming the cost of reform can’t be carried by the industry and government,” says Hills. “They’ve also called for a relaxation on essential regulatory requirements such as licensing and inspection.”
Hills says a relaxation of these measures, some of which are intended to police the use of non-compliant building materials, would be disastrous for the industry as well as the safety and integrity of building projects Australia-wide.
Proposed construction industry reforms
The Australian Government released its Building Confidence Report: Implementation Plan last December to restore confidence in Australia’s building and construction industry amid a spate of highly publicised faulty construction projects. The report sets out a national priority of reforms and proposed timeframes for each jurisdiction to implement them.
Among the many report recommendations are those that mandate a building compliance process involving greater compliance with state government bodies, local governments and private building surveyors. This includes new powers for surveyors to monitor buildings and building work and take strong compliance and enforcement action.
These reforms are largely necessary to ensure greater compliance with Australian Standards and the National Construction Code (NCC) to prevent the use of non-conforming and non-compliant building products in construction projects, says Hills.
“It’s already easy for construction companies to purchase building products that may not be fit-for-purpose and now with a depressed construction market there is even greater incentive for builders to do that – putting the integrity of buildings and the lives of Australians at risk.”
“Our view is that the building regulatory reform measures that were underway before COVID need to continue during and afterwards. We think any relaxation of the rules will send a green light to practitioners to cut as many corners as they want. And if these relaxations were put in place during COVID, it would be difficult to roll them back afterwards.”
The HomeBuilder scheme: will it help or hinder?
As a way to drum up much needed activity in the construction industry, the Federal Government announced the HomeBuilder scheme in May. The scheme provides eligible owner-occupiers and first-home buyers a grant of $25,000 to build a new home or substantially renovate an existing home.
While this initiative will inject $680 million into the industry, Hills says there is a risk the scheme could become another failed government project if proper checks and balances aren’t put in place.
“What we don’t want to see is the HomeBuilder scheme exploited the way a number of other Federal Government construction stimulus projects were during the Global Financial Crisis, one example being the bungled Greens Loans scheme,” he says.
“We’ve called on Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to urgently initiate contractual building product conformity requirements for the HomeBuilder scheme. Without these safeguards the scheme could see millions of dollars of building materials purchased from foreign or dodgy suppliers,” he says.
Needed: A chain of reporting
Hills says he wants a wider adoption of a chain of reporting in construction by the states and territories, such as the Queensland Government’s Non-Conforming Building Products Chain of Responsibility Amendment Act, as a means of effectively preventing the use of non-conforming building materials during the construction process.
“What that means is that every building product used on a construction project has to come with required product conformity information,” he says. “That information includes the product’s compliance with Australian Standards, compliance with the NCC and proper installation instructions. This information has to be available at every point in the supply chain from start to finish.”