The Building Ministers Forum (BMF) will hold its first meeting for 2020 next month to discuss plans for a professional standards scheme to raise the bar across Australia’s building sector in a bid to restore public confidence in the industry.

In its latest Communique, the BMF called on industry associations to develop the scheme as a priority to help lift standards nationally.

The industry has been under intense scrutiny in recent years following the Lacrosse Building fire in November, 2014 which exposed a pandora’s box of non-conforming products and building defects that is likely to top $6.2 billion to rectify.

Independent research by Equity Economics labelled this figure conservative and said more than 3,400 apartment buildings in Australia have combustible cladding.

Construction is critical to the Australian economy as it represents around 11% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs almost 1.2 million people or just over 9% of the workforce.

It’s the reason why government and industry have moved quickly to overhaul Australia’s regulatory environment with an agreement reached late last year to implement a new national framework as a priority.

This national approach has expanded the role of the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), which has created an implementation team of both government and industry representatives.

They will oversee the introduction of a raft of changes under the National Construction Code (NCC). Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia) CEO, Scott Williams, said the reforms are a significant step forward.

“Building compliance is a national problem, and we congratulate the BMF on coming together to agree to a national response,” he said.

“The ABCB is absolutely the correct vehicle to drive that response, and its coordination will provide the leadership and stability needed to implement the major reforms required.

"The community’s trust in the building sector has been eroded, and there is a lot of work to be done to restore that by both industry and government.” 

The ABCB has detailed the updates in NCC 2019 Volume One, Two and Three which can be downloaded online and information workshops will be held in every capital city during the months of March and April, 2020. While the building industry generally has been at the centre of the NCC reforms, there has been a particular focus on fire safety.

Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) director for NCC provisions, Graeme Moss, admitted the need to raise standards was overdue. He said the technical standards committee found there were really old certificates out there and in some cases product testing had remained the same for too long.

“There were companies out there trading with products that are really no longer suitable or safe,” Moss said. Even testing methods have come under scrutiny with a new testing verification method to be introduced on May 1, 2020.

“Over time testing improves and there may be much greater accuracy; these factors are critical when dealing with products that are being tested for things like fire resistance levels,” Moss said. “These updates can lead to sub-standard products being removed from the market, which also means getting rid of companies that try to exploit testing loopholes.”

In the current climate, Moss said it is important to ensure products are safe and certificates are current. Referring to Australian Standard AS 1530.4. which applies to a range of fire safety products such as dampers, he said manufacturers and end users need to act now. The deadline for this revised standard is May 1, 2022.

“For anyone planning to install a product or undertake a project and NCC 2022 applies, check that compliance is current and up-to date,” Moss said. “For manufacturers, if you haven’t had your product tested in accordance with the standard you need to act immediately.”

Some products may not need re-testing but this is unlikely as there are a number of product categories where compliance with the new standard is virtually non-existent. For example, one of the few manufacturers of smoke and fire dampers that is compliant with Australian Standard AS 1530.4 is Holyoake Industries.

The company’s Australasian sales manager, Andrew Krake, said Holyoake’s complete fire protection series is fully compliant with AS150.4 2014 and this includes revised leakage provisions in NCC of 1001/s/m2@300pa for all smoke and fire products.

“Our fire damper products all offer a 240Min FRL compliance with fire test standards and surpass air leakage directives as nominated by the NCC. We can provide full and current certification with RIR Reports for each product,” he said.

“The changes in the test standard made compliance extremely challenging for our engineers, which is why I think we are the only manufacturer in Australia to comply with the current test standard. Many of our competitors are still relying on the old test standard and dated certifications but we have always maintained a best practice approach to the fire protection products we bring to market.”

Krake said Holyoake field calls every day from customers checking installation methods and certifications. “The market is fearful, cautious and wants to be reassured, right now it’s a little ambiguous because the new fire test standard won’t be mandatory for another 18 months, but the leakage requirements for those products designated as smoke dampers is current,” he said.

The Holyoake fire protection series of manual or motorised smoke and fire dampers are designed to impede the spread of fire within buildings and provide sufficient time for safe occupant evacuation.

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