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Building Product Compliance – how Big is the Problem?

That is the alarming issue confronting the building and construction industry in Australia today.

The recent high-profile case regarding non-compliant aluminium cladding which helped to fuel a dangerous apartment fire in Melbourne’s Docklands in November 2014, has shone the spotlight on an issue that the industry has known about for years: that appropriately designed and tested products are being substituted for poor quality imported alternatives.

The response of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) to this issue has been outstanding, however the problem is in no way limited to just aluminium cladding. In October 2014 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recalled imported electrical cable, which was installed in up to 40,000 premises Australia-wide. This cable could become a fire hazard in as little as two years after installation.

These are just two examples of a much broader systemic failure of building legislation which poses enormous fire risk to the community and urgent action is needed.

There is an expectation in a first-world country that buildings will be compliant and safe. Yet, in the building and construction industry it is widely known that non-compliant products are bypassing the approval process and being installed.

At the Association we believe the problem exists for three main reasons:

  1. Lack of national risk based product compliance framework
  2. Lack of understanding by building practitioners about the requirements
  3. Lack of adequate surveillance, auditing and enforcement from the regulators

These issues are explored in this edition in ‘Product compliance – the confronting reality’ and many of these important issues were also raised at the Fire Australia Conference and Exhibition on Queensland’s Gold Coast on 25–26 March.

There was much discussion focused on the need for renewed vigilance across all parts of the supply chain in the building and construction industry. At the conclusion of the conference, the following key resolutions were reached:

  1. FPA Australia supports the establishment of a clear and meaningful product compliance framework that is aligned to the risks. Without such a framework, the safety and performance objectives of Australian construction regulations and standards are unlikely to be delivered and the community is at risk.
  2. FPA Australia has resolved to constitute a Fire Products Reference Group for the purpose of establishing best practice technical schedules for the assessment and certification of fire protection products for the Australian market.
  3. FPA Australia will establish a product listing scheme (FPAL) that provides a single point of reference to validate fit-for-purpose products.

By honestly and openly identifying the issues and adopting the conference resolutions, we can go some way to providing meaningful solutions.

However, treating the risk of non-compliance will only happen through the collaboration of all stakeholders. Until the building and construction industry and regulators acknowledge the extent of the problem, it will remain an immeasurable and untreatable issue for our community.

If this status quo is allowed to remain, the potential for large scale fire incidents due to product non-compliance will continue.

For further information, go to www.fpaa.com.au

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FPA Australia CEO

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