Proactive regulatory enforcement will rebuild the construction industry

Good regulatory enforcement is essential to building quality, and a good construction specification is essential for protecting the owners and users of buildings, as well as building designers.

By Emma Green, NATSPEC Communications

With the continued growth of major cities, many people are opting for apartment living. This brings with it the advantages of metropolitan inner-city life like proximity to public transport, local parks, shops and other amenities.

Anyone buying or renting a new apartment expects the building professionals, certifiers and Government authorities to have carried out their work to a high standard that will ensure the safety of the building. Despite this, there is a very real risk of building defects that relate to water issues and construction quality.

“It concerns me most as a buyer,” says building designer Aydan Doherty of AD Design Develop. “Long term, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Recently, Sydney saw the evacuation of the Opal Tower and Mascot Towers due to cracking and instability. In Darwin, nine multi-storey buildings were found to have non-compliant transfer slabs. In Victoria, the Neo200 building fire in February was a disturbing echo of 2014’s more serious Lacrosse tower fire.

Building regulations set out accepted standards of construction to prevent building failures and protect public safety. Australia’s building regulatory system relies on state legislation. Each state and territory adopts the current edition of the National Construction Code. The NCC standardises building requirements for the country as a whole. But the existence of regulations is not the same as the enforcement of regulations.

“It’s reflecting on all the projects we design,” says Neil Fletcher, the director of Neil Fletcher Design in Melbourne’s south east. “Clients have become nervous.”

Multiple reports have made recommendations to improve regulations and their enforcement in the building industry but these have not been implemented consistently. The number of apartments constructed each year tripled between 2009 and 2015, and this growth continues.

Regulatory action is in many ways reactive rather than proactive when it comes to problems in construction. Focusing on the prevention of key issues, including the reduction of fire risk, is a far safer approach compared to attempting to counter a problem when it arises. Cost cutting during a project may result in a substandard and dangerous building if the appropriate processes are not followed. The costs of rectification, alternative accommodation for residents and potentially legal costs for building industry professionals are far greater than the costs of producing a compliant, safe and reliable structure in the first place.

Good construction specifications are essential for building designers. They are critical documents that set out the level of quality and workmanship required for a project.

“I’ve used specifications for a long time because I think that’s the only way you can be thorough and show compliance with regulations to clarify the quality of construction,” says Darren Bowman of Darren Bowman Design.

Specifications embed the requirements that must be satisfied should substitution of a product or material be requested. They are also used to embed the requirements of the NCC. This is the information that cannot be shown only through the drawings but that is necessary to ensure a building is safe and fit for purpose. As a legal document, specifications communicate the designer’s intentions, indicate the necessary quality and provide guidelines for substitution.

It is easy to forget that ensuring quality requires enforcing the documentation. NATSPEC specifications, updated twice a year, reflect the applicable deemed-to-satisfy requirements of the NCC. They are editable to permit performance solutions. Designers still need to reflect state and territory requirements. Using NATSPEC to specify quality means using NATSPEC to assist in the enforcement of regulatory obligations, resulting in safe and reliable buildings for clients and the Australian public.

“A lot of times the specification clarifies what we have to do and what the builder has to do,” says Reini Strecker of SandS Building Design in Bairnsdale. “It saves us a lot of time in documentation when you’ve got a good specification.”

NATSPEC is the only comprehensive national construction specification that is regularly updated for the building industry. NATSPEC tracks over 1000 regulatory, standards and reference documents.

The NATSPEC master specification is not designed to replace good regulatory enforcement. As a legal and contractual document, specifications can act as proof of a building designer’s intentions to show that they are not at fault, but this requires a system in which industry workers are properly held to account for substandard work and in which the standards and regulations referred to in specifications are readily enforced. NATSPEC’s role is to provide good quality documentation for the design and construction of good quality buildings. On-site enforcement is the responsibility of all design professions. Regulatory enforcement is the responsibility of Government and industry working together.

NATSPEC is a not-for-profit, Government- and industry-owned organisation. It is impartial and not involved in any advocacy or policy development. NATSPEC manages the National Building Specification and has been a valued part of the industry for over 40 years.

For more information, visit: www.natspec.com.au