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Australia has extensive regulations and standards in the building and construction sector. However, the lack of independent verification and visible regulatory authority is making the conformance framework ineffective and unfair. Ai Group has long maintained that non-conforming product is adversely impacting our community, putting lives at risk and harming Australian businesses. To date, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Innes Willox, Chief Executive Ai Group

What is Non-Conforming Product?  

It is a problem for all product manufacturers and importers in Australia but particularly the building and construction sector. Non-conforming products (NCP) are those products that do not comply with the relevant standards and / or codes (e.g. the Infinity Cable recall). A variant of this is non-complying product where the product may comply with the standards and codes but is installed incorrectly or in the wrong application (e.g. the Lacrosse Fire).

What are some examples?

  • Fairburn hangar collapse - the bolts were found not to meet Australian Standards – see here
  • USB charger death – a young nurse died as a result of a faulty USB phone charger – see here
  • Infinity cable recall – 4000 km recalled from homes at a cost of over $80m. Cable was found to prematurely age leaving the insulation brittle and prone to cause fire and electrocution – see here
  • Lacrosse fire – external cladding caught fire and was found to be non-compliant to the National Construction Code – see here
  • Asbestos at Perth hospital – asbestos was found in the roof panels – see here

Why is it happening?

 Australia's regulatory system has not kept pace with the emergence of complex global supply chains. As a result, unscrupulous operators have taken advantage of weaknesses in the conformance framework by supplying NCP into our markets.

What is Ai Group doing?

We listened to members concerns and sought Government support to conduct research and then wrote a report (“The quest for a level playing field: the non-conforming building products dilemma” – see here) on how extensive the problem was and why it was occurring. We found that 92% of 222 respondent companies reported non-conforming product in their market. We found gaps and weaknesses in the building and construction conformance that included inadequacies with surveillance, audit checks, testing, first party certification and enforcement.

Ai Group believes that we cannot solve this problem on our own and so we formed the Construction Product Alliance (CPA) involving over 40 industry bodies. We chair this group and share the secretariat with BPIC - see the CPA's website here. CPA developed an 8-point action plan to tackle NCP and submitted it to the Building Ministers Forum for consideration.

Currently we are:

  • Supporting the CPA as it liaises with the BMF SOG to implement a NCP strategy consistent with their report recommendations.
  • Encouraging the Federal Government to reconvene the Senate enquiry to complete investigations.
  • Working with members in the grates and access covers sector to identify if there is an NCP problem and consider available levers to implement a strategy to address the issue.
  • Working with members in the water and plumbing products sector, along with the two other key industry associations, to develop an information sheet on action that can be taken when NCP is identified.
  • Facilitating discussions with electrical regulators and members on NCP issues.
  • Continuing to educate members on the issue – see information sheet here.

What is Government doing?

The Building Ministers Forum (BMF) Senior Officials Group (SOG) have released a document "Strategies to reduce risk related to non-conforming building products" (see here) that outlines how industry and Government can work together to tackle the problem. There were 6 key recommendations that picked up many of the elements of the CPA’s 8-point plan.

The Federal Government has held a Senate enquiry (see here) into NCP in the building sector and they have released an interim report "Safety - not a matter of good luck". It stated that:

“Clearly there has been a serious breakdown in the regulation and oversight of both non-conforming and non-compliant building products, which requires determined action.”
Ai Group and the CPA are pressuring the Government to reconvene and complete the Senate enquiry.

What is Ai Group’s position on NCP?  

Ai Group believes that the examples of NCP in the public domain are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg and that Australia is facing a significant issue if effective action is not taken immediately. If Australians cannot be certain that a modern hospital, a high rise building and their own homes are safe, then public confidence in our regulatory systems will continue to be eroded at a rapid rate.
Ai Group believes that the following are priorities to address the problem:

  • Regulators should be increasing surveillance and audit activities of product
  • High risk building products should have a higher level of evidence of compliance (third party certification) in the National Construction Code.
  • The feasibility of establishing a confidential reporting system to facilitate the reporting of NCP should be assessed.
  • Responsibility for product conformance should be established at point-of-sale

Ai Group's media releases

London fire and non-conforming building products – Ai Group comment – see here
Asbestos discoveries in building products the tip of the iceberg – see here
Asbestos on building sites a continuing regulatory issue – see here
Welcome action ahead on non-conforming building products – see here
Cable recall highlights the dangers and costs of non – conforming products – see here
Non – conforming building products create an uneven market – see here
Non – conforming products widespread across building and construction sector – see here

Contacts

  • James Thomson - Senior Adviser Standards and Regulation Ph: 02 4925 8313
  • Mark Goodsell – Director Manufacturing Ph: 02 9466 5523
  • Lindsay Le Compte – Chair Construction Product Alliance Ph: 02 9466 5522

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