The issue of non-conforming building products continues to gain media and industry attention following a number of high profile events such as the Docklands apartment fire and the Infinity cables recall. Managing the issue of non-conforming building products will require the efforts of all parties to the building and procurement process, including builders and subcontractors.
This article will focus on two related issues; non-conforming building products, which are products that do not perform as claimed by the manufacturer and non-compliant building products which can be considered otherwise compliant products that are used incorrectly.
Put simply, non-conforming building products relate to quality, non-compliant building products relate to context. The increasing range of new and innovative products available for sale makes it vital that both builders and sub-contractors understand the National Construction Code (NCC) pathways used to ensure product compliance.
Non-Conforming Building Products
As stated by the recently released Building Ministers’ Forum Senior Officers Group consultation report1, non-conforming building products are ‘products and materials that claim to be something they are not; do not meet required standards for their intended use; or are marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who use them’. Thus, the key question for builders and sub-contractors is how do you know that product claims are valid and that they meet the minimum acceptable standards?
The NCC rules for product compliance are found within Part A2.2 (Volume 1) and Part 1.2.2 (Volume 2) Evidence of Suitability. Put simply, the Evidence of Suitability rules offer manufacturers and suppliers five conformity assessment pathways that can be used individually, or in combination, to demonstrate product compliance. Briefly, these options are:
A report from a registered testing agency. Registered testing agencies test facilities and labs that are accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities to test a range of building products and systems.
CodeMark certification: CodeMark is a voluntary product certification scheme managed in Australia by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB). Building products certified under the CodeMark scheme are provided with a Certificate of Conformity that identifies the product name, its purpose and any conditions or limitations of use. A full list of currently certified products available on the ABCB website http://www.abcb.gov.au/Product-Certification/CodeMark-Certification-Scheme/Certified-Products.
A current certificate from a professional engineer or other person suitably qualified to certify that the product or system complies with the requirements of the NCC.
A certificate issued by a product certification body accredited under the Joint Accreditation Scheme of Australia and New Zealand. More details about the JAS-ANZ scheme can be found at http://www.jas-anz.org/
And finally, any other form of documentary evidence that demonstrates product compliance with the NCC.
It is also critical that the documentation provided by the supplier contains enough information to allow you to accurately assess the products suitability for the intended use. As a guide, information supplied by testing or certification bodies should include: specific contact and registration details, the date of the test or certification, identification of any standards or codes relied upon, the results of any test and any limitations on the use of the product.
The important point to remember is that the evidence of suitability options are the only valid product compliance pathways listed under the NCC, so when you are getting a quote or ordering your materials for the job, you need to insist that documentation in accordance with the evidence of suitability rules are supplied and that you check that all details are correct.
Non-Complying Building Products
Having identified Part 1.2.2 or A2.2 as the pathway to identify product compliance, we will now move on to considering the issue of non-compliant building products, or products that fail because they have been used in the incorrect context. To understand how to identify whether a product is non-complying, you need to have an understanding of the NCC Deemed-to-Satisfy compliance options.
Deemed-to-Satisfy solutions are those acceptable construction practices that are either contained within the NCC or acceptable construction manuals (generally Australian Standards) directly referred to by the NCC. For example, for stair construction, you would refer to part 3.9.1 of the NCC for details in relation to going and riser dimensions, slip resistance etc. In the case of timber framing however there are no construction practices contained in the NCC, rather you are directed to AS1684 series of standards for timber framed construction for details of correct practice. In both cases provided the design, construction and materials were in accordance with these practices, your work would be considered Deemed-to-Satisfy, automatically meeting the NCC performance requirements.
The important point related to the management of non-compliant building products is the need to identify the specific product type and where/how it is intended to be used. This information should then be directly referenced to the relevant part of the NCC (or the referenced construction manual) to identify specific construction details, durability requirements and any potential limitations.
It is true to say that the NCC does not reference specific brands or products, but the manufacturers should provide the required design and construction details for their product that directly refer to the relevant NCC/Australian standard parts, allowing you to further check product suitability. If this information is not available how can you be sure that the product or how you are using it is complaint?
Lastly, when gathering the manufacture’s installation details, don’t forget to also ask for your evidence of suitability documents.
Finally, it is also possible to formulate a design or use materials that are not Deemed-to-Satisfy, known by the NCC as Performance Solutions, but this is a topic in its own right and one that we will consider another day.
We live in a globalised world with new products and innovations occurring at an ever increasing rate. While this environment provides great opportunities it also introduces new risks. To help manage these risks, builders and sub-contractors need to clearly understand the processes to determine product conformity and the correct application of the product. You should always ask the supplier for all necessary information to satisfy yourself of the products evidence of suitability and any conditions or limitations of use – if they cannot provide you with satisfactory answers you need to dig deeper or perhaps look elsewhere.