May 22 2020

How To Responsibly Choose Appropriately Certified Building Materials

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Introduction

 Navigating the guidelines of the building industry in itself can be daunting, and the addition of material compliance requirements can make construction and design jobs even lengthier from start to finish. That’s why it’s important to have a sound understanding of the governing bodies and the codes that outline compliance and conformity requirements so that when you are seeking information, you know exactly where to find it. This guide will provide some clarity into the building codes available to industry professionals and the responsibility these professionals are subject to. It will also delve briefly into the material supply chain and then finally will clarify how to implement the codes and regulations when choosing appropriate materials.

Choose wisely when building and designing – the safety of the community depends upon it.

What are NCBP and NCP?

 NCBP means non-conforming building products, and NCP is an acronym for non-compliant building products.

According to the Australian Building Codes Board:

An NCBP is a product or material that;

  • Claims to be something it is not
  • Does not meet the required standards for their intended use
  • Is marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who use them[1]

An NCP is a product or material that;

  • Does not comply with the NCC guidelines when used in a particular situation

The main difference between the two is that NCBP refers to a material that does not fit the standards, period. An NCP does not fit the standards of the situation in which it is being used however, might be appropriate for a different project or scenario. A product can be both NCBP and NCP; however, unless the person responsible for product sourcing has been transparent and is also knowledgeable, these are sometimes hard to detect and differentiate between.

Below are some examples of both NCP and NCBP’s that will help to form a better understanding of the two.

NCBP: a cladding that claims to be ‘non-combustible’ but is indeed combustible is claiming to be something it is not, deceiving the user and rendering it an NCBP.

NCP: A cladding that is combustible and used where a ‘non-combustible’ material is required is an NCP.

The use and installation of an NCP or NCBP in Australian buildings can result in hefty costs in safety, time, and finances if removal of that product had to occur or even worse, failure of the building due to reckless material selection. The safety of all inhabitants and users relies on the conscious and careful selection of building materials, and the responsibility lies with all involved in the building process.

Rather than recognising troublesome building products when it is already too late, design and construction personnel should be proactive in recognising these NCP and NCBP products from the start of the supply chain to raise the alarm sooner and avoid costly repercussions.

The Building Material Decision Making Process

 The building and construction market is one of global proportions, with materials being manufactured both locally and internationally, making it increasingly difficult to decipher whether or not a particular material pertains to the Australian Building Codes Board National Construction Code.

The building material supply chain is complex, and knowing the logistics of it can help every individual involved to make responsible decisions. Predicting whether or not a material will maintain its function is near impossible without first understanding whether or not it conforms to standards. Standards differ from state to state, so having foundational knowledge of the supply chain is important.

The Building Supply Chain Format

Manufacturers can be local or international – the construction industry is vast and sometimes under-regulated in different localities.

Sale includes importing, wholesaling, distributors, and retailers – a large onus of responsibility rests on distributors of materials to provide information on their certifications.

Procurement is the responsibility of architects, engineers, and designers. Most professionals will restrict procurement to products approved by accredited JAS ANZ Codemark or Watermark personnel.

Building Work includes the work carried out by builders, tradesperson, certifiers, and surveyors.

The Owner of the building carries varying responsibilities, depending on the building’s intended use.

What are the responsibilities for the individuals involved according to their performed role?

Due to the varying roles in the supply chain, different responsibilities pertain to different roles. These are outlined below:

Manufacturers are required to know what requirements their products must meet and ensure their products will meet these requirements initially AND in the long run. They must be fully aware of how their product is expected to comply with the National Construction Code, and every stage of the manufacturing process must be undertaken with this in mind. Cutting corners in manufacturing is unacceptable and will become evident when the necessary testing is carried out in order to gain certification. Manufacturers need to readily provide accessible evidence of product testing, results, and certification to anybody in the supply chain who requests such information.

Importers, Wholesalers, Distributors, and Retailers are required to check the certifications and ensure products adhere to local requirements and the ABCB’s National Construction code before procuring and distributing. They need to provide relevant information about whether their products are suitable for whatever project they’re purchased for and need to provide clear information about when they should or should not be used.

Architects, Engineers & Designers are often the people specifying particular products or materials for a job. Therefore it is their responsibility to understand what products need to have which specific certifications and exactly how they are meant to be used. This information needs to be clearly outlined in their product recommendations so that individuals involved in the procurement stage aren’t tempted to source cheaper products without fully understanding why particular products have been specified in the first place. Design is important, but safety and functionality are paramount.

Procurement plays a pivotal role in the building process that is paramount in ensuring only safe and certified materials are used. Individuals tasked with procuring materials and products should have a thorough understanding of what products should comply and conform according to the NCC. Additionally, anyone involved in procuring should also be prepared to provide evidence of certifications and ensure necessary products have such certifications.

Approvers and Certifiers are tasked with the important role of upholding safety in the construction industry and are often required to inspect building sites and buildings to ensure products are being used appropriately and that signs of product misuse or bad building products are absent. If they find defects or faults, they are required to bring attention to them and request that they are rectified.

Builders and Tradespersons are the individuals using the materials and so naturally, the onus often falls on them if materials are found to be insufficient, non-conforming, or non-compliant. Builders are also responsible for any remedial work that might occur due to incorrect materials, so it is always in their best interest to familiarise themselves with the materials being used and the ratings they hold.

Owners of buildings, both commercial, residential, and multi-residential, have a duty of care to inhabitants and visitors who rely on optimum building functionality for their safety. This means they are expected to encourage high quality over cost-saving materials and should invest in highly skilled professionals to ensure the works are completed to the highest possible standards. It is unrealistic to expect owners to understand the NCC; however, they have a duty to check and understand the credentials and scope of any hired person’s expertise.

Building Industry Governing Bodies and Regulatory Framework

 The building industry is governed mostly by the Australian Building and Construction Commission who has devised a National Construction Code that informs industry personnel on the minimum requirements for compliance, taking into consideration the health, safety, accessibility, and sustainability of a building design.

The NCC is comprised of three volumes;

 

  • Volume One largely refers to the multi-residential, commercial, public and industrial buildings that come under class 2 to 9 categorisation.
  • Volume Two applies to residential and non-habitable buildings in class 1 and 10 of buildings and structures.
  • Volume Three refers to the plumbing and drainage requirements of all buildings.

In addition to general building requirements, the NCC also includes what is acceptable as evidence of suitability of specific materials, including certifications required of specific products in an effort to keep the supply chain process accountable and responsible for appropriately sourced materials. When determining whether a material can be used, please refer to Part A2 of Volumes One and Three of the NCC, where detailed information has been included on the acceptable evidence of building conformity and your available options of suitable materials.

Part A2 should be consulted, especially when selecting building materials that hold high value, high risks in their use, or are explicitly included in the building process to uphold the health and safety of the buildings intended users. Sustainability is also an aspect of the building process, that should be considered when selecting materials and ensuring they pertain to current standards.

All persons involved in the building process have a responsibility to actively know about the materials being selected for use, and this extends to any customers involved in sourcing products for their own building work, even if it’s carried out by a contracted builder. Customer’s sourcing building materials should refer to Part A2 to understand what credible evidence of conformity they should look for when selecting materials.

Who and What are the governing bodies when it comes to regulations and requirements?

The states and territories play a large role in the regulation of the construction industry, including the planning process, building plan approval, and licensed occupations.

Regulations in each state differ slightly; however, they all have one thing in common: they enforce the compliance of construction personnel with the NCC, using planning and approval processes to govern and enact this.

Certifiers

Building certification schemes operate state to state, using the expertise of local council or private practitioners in the approval of design and construction processes proposed by construction personnel and developers. Certifiers and surveyors have a legal obligation to guarantee a building is safe, reliable, and compliant prior to approval, and this extends to the works carried out, the materials used, and the design of the building.

Local laws, guidelines and council authority

Local councils within the states govern what plans are approved and are also responsible for issuing building permits and the protection of the environment during construction. They carry out these responsibilities under the authority of State laws. Councils often work closely with private surveyors and certifiers.

Risks For Non-Conformance and Compliance

The risk of using non-conforming or non-complying building products can be financially hefty as costs to replace insufficient materials are liable to the builder, designer, and construction personnel involved. Building approval and certification can also be an expensive and timely cost that would have to be re-approached once the mistakes have been rectified. Even more dire risks involve legal action against professionals who neglect their responsibilities and fail to produce safe buildings, as seen in the tragic Grenfell Tower accident. Accountability is important in this industry as a method of prevention, and the actions of individuals will be investigated in the event of an incident.

For these reasons, its best to ensure your choices are made in a thoroughly knowledgeable manner and avoid the risks of non-conforming materials.

Safety of Products and Materials

Products and materials must be deemed safe in accordance with either the Australian Consumer Laws in Australia or the planning and building regulations that are enforced in the residing state. To be covered by ACL, a material must be of less than $40,000 value or more than $40,000 but still something considered to be normally acquired for domestic use. These two governing bodies ensure all of the building material supply chain is held accountable in the selection of safe materials. The following chapter will discuss the relevant certifications that indicate materials have been tested for reliability and are therefore safe.

How to put guidelines into practice and consciously choose safe and certified materials

The construction industry can be a difficult one to navigate, however if you’re aware of what the governing bodies mentioned in the previous chapter are responsible for, you’ll know where to go when you need advice.

It’s also difficult to know what you should be looking for in terms of product certification, and that’s what this chapter will discuss.

Product Certification

There are six acceptable forms of evidence when it comes to proving the reliability of building materials:

  1. CodeMark or WaterMark Certificate of Conformity
  2. Certificate from a product certification body that has been accredited by The Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ)
  3. Certificate of Accreditation from a State and Territory Accreditation Authority
  4. A report issued by a registered testing authority or organisation
  5. Certificate from a professional engineer or other professional holding appropriate qualifications
  6. Other documentary evidence

These are the main forms of certification that can prove compliance with the NCC and are deemed as such after a conformity assessment, independent third-party certification, product certification, or approval by an industry-based scheme.

These assessments can be commissioned by numerous individuals or companies in the supply chain, including manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, suppliers, and importers. It is in the best interest of these parties to participate in testing and certification to ensure their products are usable in the Australian market.

Where a product holds high stakes and consequences in the event of failure or is renowned for its risk of failure, it is recommended that third-party testing occurs. This ensures manufacturers have carried out their due diligence in their product’s safety and minimises the risk of penalty. To learn more about the conformity and compliance routes for assessment, please consult the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council’s Procurement Guide to Construction Products.

The testing of products can involve numerous methods, including declarations (by manufacturers or suppliers), testing, certification, or inspection.

Actively understanding compliance and conformance and applying this to materials to check suitability

There are four main steps that both consumers and construction personnel can take in ensuring that materials are both compliant and conforming to the NCC:

  1. Prioritise which building materials are most important in terms of compliance and make it your mission to ensure attention is paid to the specifics of those materials. For example, wall cladding holds higher risks than a basin in a bathroom, especially in the event of a fire.
  2. Pay close attention to the approved plans. Specific brands and materials will have been identified for a reason, so stick to that plan and provide all supporting documentation to owners or request them if you are the owner yourself. Evidence of conformity and compliance can be secured from suppliers and manufacturers upon request.
  3. Request the conclusive evidence from the supplier or manufacturer (as mentioned above) and, if unavailable, insist on testing or arranging an inspection on own accord. It’s safer than neglecting and having to rectify the issue later.
  4. If the product cannot be proven as satisfactory in both compliance and conformance, whether that be with supporting evidence or through organised testing, do not use it.

 

[1] Non-compliant and non-conforming products | Australian .... https://www.abcb.gov.au/Connect/Articles/Non-compliant-and-non-conforming-products

 

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