Written by Joseph Keller, Communications Manager, FPA Australia
Building product compliance under the spotlight
Fire safety in Australia’s built environment has come to the fore. The community has become disenchanted by the apparent low standard of building and product compliance, specifically in relation to product compliance of life-safety and fire protection equipment and systems. Incidents include the nationwide recall of non-compliant electrical cables, known as Infinity Cables, sold in major retailers in 2012 and 2013. It is believed that Infinity Cables were installed in around 40,000 Australian properties. Most of this non-compliant, potentially hazardous cabling remains in situ as there is no way to identify properties where it has been installed.
This issue, among many others, validates that community expectations have not been met.
Inferior-quality products are sold openly on the Australian market and there is little to stop these products being installed and then incorrectly signed off. This was highlighted when the Lacrosse apartment building in Melbourne’s Docklands caught fire in 2014. The blaze spread rapidly and vertically across multiple storeys because non-compliant combustible cladding material had been installed on the building’s facade.
Scott Williams FPA Australia Chief Executive Officer notes ‘These incidents serve as sobering reminders of what can occur when fire protection, im电竞下载ios, installation, testing and maintenance are not carried out by competent, qualified and accredited individuals’. Such incidents emphasise that products should be fit-for-purpose and comply with relevant safety codes and standards. The implications of such fire emergencies, in particular where fatalities and injuries have occurred, call into question whether current regulatory frameworks in Australia are adequate to protect human lives, assets and the environment and minimise economic loss.
Importance of stringent compliance standards
FPA Australia recently proposed a new, risk-based alternative to the current requirements for demonstrating ‘evidence of suitability’ for products under the Building Code of Australia (BCA). The concept was presented to delegates at the Building Ministers’ Forum in July 2015. This forum provided government representatives from all states and territories opportunities to discuss industry and community concerns about the health and life-safety risks of potentially non-conforming building products and materials. At present, the BCA stipulates that materials and the form of construction or im电竞下载ios can be certified using one or a combination of:
- a report issued by a Registered Testing Authority showing that the material or form of construction has been submitted to the tests listed in the report, and setting out the results of those tests and any other relevant information that demonstrates its suitability for use in the building
- a current Certificate of Conformity or a current Certificate of Accreditation
- a certificate from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person that:
- Certifies that a material, im电竞下载ios or form of construction complies with the requirements of the BCA
- sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant specifications, rules, codes of practice or other publications have been relied on
- a current certificate issued by a product certification body that has been accredited by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand
- any other documentary evidence that correctly describes the properties and performance of the material or form of construction and adequately demonstrates its suitability for use in the building.
These provisions are not placed in any specific risk-based hierarchy and do not clearly define the boundaries of the suitability of materials used in Australian building and construction. The flexibility to demonstrate product compliance is so broad that under the National Construction Code it is equally acceptable to demonstrate evidence of product suitability by a laboratory test as it is to rely on the opinion of an individual with unknown qualifications or none at all. Manufacturers and builders increasingly pursue cost-effective products and materials and often find cheaper alternatives. This, combined with the ambiguous requirements of Clause A2.2 of the BCA outlined above, the flexibility of international trade flows and lack of regulatory frameworks to govern these products, means that many non-compliant building products bypass the building-approval process and are installed, despite their potential risk to life safety.
Reforming the compliance boundaries
FPA Australia has developed a conceptual framework that proposes modifying Clause A2.2 of the CA for products to be classified in three levels—high, medium and low. The objective is to minimise the risks to consumers, businesses and the community when building products fail to conform to relevant codes and standards at import and installation. This approach prescribes the rigour of assessment required for each risk category and that it should be consistent with the risk of product failure and the impact this could have on life, property and the environment, and potential economic loss. Under this framework, a category three low-risk product such as plasterboard could be supported for use by any form of evidence that adequately demonstrates suitability for use. This provides maximum flexibility and reflects the low risk to health and safety should the plasterboard fail. Conversely, a life-safety product such as a fire sprinkler component would be a category one high-risk product that is installed for life-safety purposes. It would therefore need to be certified by a recognised body or individual consistent with a national product certification scheme for fire sprinkler components that has prescribed and consistent assessment rigour.
Product testing—Australia’s industry leaders
Exova Warringtonfire is one of the businesses leading the way through rigorous assessment of world-class fire-safety technology. Exova’s services include reaction to fire and fire resistance testing, fire engineering, training, fire consultancy, fire risk assessment and voluntary and mandatory fire certification. In May 2015, Exova Warringtonfire’s testing laboratories in Dandenong, Melbourne, hosted 70 Australian building officials and practitioners to witness full-scale fire tests. These tests demonstrated to those who im电竞下载ios or approve life-saving fire protection systems the responsibilities and testing that should be carried out on the elements that are approved and used in building and construction. Demonstrations included an illustration of how intense fire can become in a controlled environment. Three tests were conducted:
- full-scale fire door test, alongside a solidcore door, which is often mistakenly considered to be just as adequate
- room test, to assess an internal lining and determine the time for an empty room to be fully engulfed in flames
- bushfire test, to assess how products on the exterior of a building reacted to various aspects of a bushfire attack.
Exova Warringtonfire’s testing clearly demonstrated that the use of noncompliant products (such as solid core door in place of a fire door) cannot be deemed fit for purpose. Exova Warringtonfire’s aim—to demonstrate industry best practice in critical fire protection systems testing—directly complements FPA Australia’s strong position on the importance of building product compliance and the need for adequate government regulation. The ability to minimise the effects of a fire and further prevent fire depends on rigorous product testing and the ability of building practitioners to quickly and easily identify compliant products. FPA Australia sees the work of organisations such as Exova Warringtonfire as industry best practice in Australia and applauds its shared commitment to leading and supporting a professional industry to minimise the impact of fire.
The way forward for building product compliance in Australia
FPA Australia is promoting the implementation of a national register for high and medium-risk building products to provide transparency and improve the consistency of products across the Australian marketplace. However, the application of building products as fit for purpose will only occur if state and territory regulators introduce, implement and enforce applicable legislation, clearly outlining the expectations for product selection, documentation, certification and use. When products are imported by a global supplier or installed by practitioners who operate solely for profit with blatant disregard for fire safety, this process becomes increasingly problematic and it is difficult to achieve the fire protection and life-safety outcomes the community expects.
There is no regulatory framework in Australia that commercially incentivises individuals and businesses to seek a professional approach to demonstrate their products and systems comply. No stimulus or benefits exist for manufacturers, suppliers, builders, im电竞下载iosers, installers and even regulatory authorities to rigorously test products for compliance. Multiple fire protection products are required to operate infrequently but must perform first time, every time, in a fire or emergency. Unfortunately, without a risk-based approach to test and certify products that are understood to be flooding into the Australian market, life safety and confidence of the community cannot be guaranteed. Testing products to statutory investment in quality assurance.
However, as Australia migrates from a local product market towards more dynamic and flexible international free trade, it is increasingly difficult to verify that building products are fit for purpose without significantly reforming legislation. This includes product testing frameworks and endorsement of the work of companies who specialise in these fields, such as Exova Warringtonfire. Their work should function in alliance with the implementation of stringent legislative product compliance standards, which should incorporate education about the responsibilities of correct practice with product specification, selection and use in the im电竞下载ios, installation and approval process. FPA Australia believes this is the only way forward to ensure successful fire safety outcomes that reflect community expectations.
For the first time im电竞下载ios and the Fire Protection Association Australia will run simultaneous events, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. This partnership will join Australia’s ultimate trade event for the architecture, building and im电竞下载ios industries together with the largest event dedicated to fire protection and hazardous materials. Traditionally run as separate events, registered delegates from both im电竞下载ios and Fire Australia & Hazmat 2016 will receive complimentary access to each show floor.
For the first time im电竞下载ios and the Fire Protection Association Australia will run simultaneous events, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. This partnership will join Australia’s ultimate trade event for the architecture, building and im电竞下载ios industries together with the largest event dedicated to fire protection and hazardous materials. Traditionally run as separate events, registered delegates from both im电竞下载ios and
Fire Australia & Hazmat 2016
will receive complimentary access to each show floor.
You can register to attend the im电竞下载ios and gain free access Fire Australia & Hazmat 2016 here
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