Reducing the “RE” factor to benefit code users
The ABCB explains the decision to move to a three-year amendment cycle following NCC 2016.
If you have been in the building and construction industry for a while, you might remember the days when the Building Code of Australia (BCA) was amended every SIX months.
Between 1990 and 1996, the BCA was amended irregularly but generally twice per year. With the introduction of the performance-based BCA96, amendments were made in January and July each year. From BCA 2004, the pace of code amendments slowed somewhat with a move to annual amendments that took effect from 1 May each year.
The Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA), first published by the National Plumbing Regulators Forum in 2004, remained unamended (but not nationally adopted) until it joined the National Construction Code (NCC) series in 2011. Since then, the PCA like the BCA has been amended every year.
Code changes can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can be seen as keeping the code relevant and contemporary and adopting a continuous improvement approach. On the other hand, code changes can place significant burdens on code users; burdens that manifest themselves in the time and money spent on retraining, redesigning, rewriting, reviewing, redoing and a host of other “re”s.
It would be wrong to expect that a document like the NCC should never change. Over time, code changes are necessary to respond to emerging issues, changing practices and new technologies. The challenge is getting the balance right so that these changes occur in a way that allows code users to keep up (and comply as intended) and avoids industry constantly being in “re” mode.
Feedback received by the ABCB from individual code users, industry bodies and other sources clearly said that annual code changes did not achieve that balance. For example, a NSW parliamentary inquiry into building practice stated, “A key problem for building practitioners is that the Building Code is too frequently changed and amended.” Another source stated, “Certifiers have to take on the role of educators because of rapid changes in the building code”. Under an annual code amendment cycle, the public comment draft of the next edition is released just one month after the current edition is enacted.
Regular readers of the ABCB’s Australian Building Regulation Bulletin (ABRB) will be familiar with the ABCB’s Next Instalment of Building Regulatory Reform which includes making the NCC free of charge for online users, and a suite of reforms to reduce red tape, improve housing affordability and lower construction costs. A key part of these reforms is the move from an annual NCC amendment cycle to a three-year amendment cycle.
A decision to move to a three-year amendment cycle following NCC 2016 was taken by the Building Ministers’ Forum at its meeting on 30 May 2014. In taking this decision, the BMF recognised that there still needed to be a mechanism for making code changes in exceptional circumstances, for example, to respond to urgent safety and health risks. These “out-of-session” code changes will be subject to strict criteria and can only be made following support of the majority of members of the Board of the ABCB.
The 2016 edition of the NCC is being finalised for enactment from 1 May 2016. This will be the last edition of the NCC under the annual amendment cycle. This means that under a three-year amendment cycle, the next scheduled edition will be NCC 2019.
For further information on the NCC amendment cycle, please contact the ABCB office at http://www.abcb.gov.au/en/about-the-australian-building-codes-board/contact-us.aspx