Member Advisory Alert – NCBPs and NCPs

Message from the National President

Richard Kirk

As specialist, highly-qualified, registered professionals, architects have specific obligations and duties when it comes to product specification and use in the built environment. Beyond the regulations imposed by government, the Institute’s members are also bound by a code of ethics, and by a duty to constantly improve our practices. This commitment to excellence underpins our social licence to operate and the trust our clients, and the broader community, place in the profession. 
Cognisant of these responsibilities, in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy in London and subsequent Australian federal, state and territory government actions in response, the Institute’s National Practice Committee has produced a new Advisory Note for members on non-conforming building products and non-complying products. 
We urge you to take the time to review this important information, which will shortly be followed by a Practice Note currently under development by the Acumen Content Review Panel. You can download the full Advisory Note here
All building work in Australia must meet certain performance and legal requirements to ensure it is safe, healthy and durable.  In recent years concerns have been raised about the risks of using non-conforming building products (NCBPs), or using non-complying products (NCPs). There are particular concerns around the health and safety risks associated with the use of NCBPs and NCPs.  With particular reference to flammable cladding, these represent a clear and unacceptable threat to public safety. This year’s Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in the UK showed the lethal risks of non-conforming products. 
Building audits currently underway by state and territory governments, including the one that commenced in Victoria following the 2014 Lacrosse fire, clearly demonstrate this is an issue – and a danger – we must urgently address in Australia. 
The Institute is engaging with government and advocating strongly for improved measures to manage the risks posed by NCBPs and NCPs now and into the future. 
We are urging decision makers to recognise the role architects are uniquely qualified and placed to play in ensuring better public safety in our built environment. 
We welcome the measures governments at all levels have taken to date acting to address the urgent public safety issue NCBPs and NCPs but more is needed. 
The Senate Standing Committee on Economics’ inquiry into non-conforming building products has held five public hearings this year and received 87 submissions – including ours which you can read here

Next Wednesday the Committee is due to release their Interim report on external cladding materials with the interim report on asbestos due for release in October and the final report on both in April next year. We will circulate the Committees’ interim report to members once it is released. 
Your Institute’s position
1.    The threat of non-conforming and non-compliant building products can be reduced at every stage of the supply and building process.
2.    Rigorous enforcement of existing laws, including more stringent examination of overseas certification and third-party evaluation of locally produced materials, can ensure that a product is what it is represented to be, with consistent performance.   
3.    Traditionally, architects were the final arbiters of material selection. Decisions are now made by builders, project managers, and others to substitute products to save costs, with the decision being based on materials that ‘look the same’ rather than ‘perform the same’ as that originally selected by the architect designer.
4.    With reduced levels of oversight by skilled and experienced practitioners, inappropriate use and substitution of building products can result in low quality and often dangerous buildings.
5.    The Institute will push to realign decision making responsibilities with expertise. We will push for stringent enforcement of the building code and proper oversight. We will closely monitor government action and reforms to ensure our members are well informed. 
Together, we will continue to advocate for high quality, safe and durable buildings to our community that architects are well-placed to deliver.

Richard Kirk,
National President,
Australian Institute of Architects

Photo credit:  Toby Scott