The late 2010s period saw a fair bit of media and sector coverage associated with building products. The reinforcing mesh issue plus the impact of the fires in Melbourne and London involving aluminium composite panels gave fuel to the debate.
Unfortunately, like many issues which get a public hearing with media and political interest, the facts and detailed analysis gets lost in the noise. Many sector participants did not help get a quality debate on the issues going as they used the opportunity to either criticise their competitor’s products, diss imported products or blame others (product suppliers, specifiers or building officials, regulators).
After some initial policy consultation, the government introduced a Building Act Amendment Bill into parliament which among other things introduced a requirement for information about building products to be mandatory. The Bill was referred to the Environment Select Committee which reported back earlier this month. This Bill is effectively the policy response to the debate.
While there are some details yet to come such as specifically which products are covered and details on the information required (the details of these will be set in regulations which will be made after the Bill is passed likely to be later this year), the general direction is known.
It is likely that the requirements will not be too dissimilar from that currently published on the MBIE web site. These were developed in 2010 in order to improve the quality of building product information. At the time, MBIE conducted an education programme to promote the material. Unfortunately, many suppliers did not follow or realise the guidance existed and much of the product information currently available is of low quality and in some cases simply does not exist.
It is useful for product suppliers to think about the two outcomes they want when they introduce a product onto the market. The first is that the product is specified or sold. This is the focus of most of the information currently available. The second outcome — and one that is often overlooked — is the need to help those doing building work with the product to get a building consent. This is the focus of the MBIE product assurance guidance.
Product assurance information is characterised by the use of objective language, that is language which is clear and unambiguous and uses terms that relate to the building sector and the Building Code and associated documents (for example where appropriate, the use of terms such as wind, earthquake, climate and exposure zones as well as terms such as building classifications such as used in the Code).
Building product suppliers wanting to get a head start on meeting their future mandatory obligations can do no worse than reviewing the current MBIE information and starting to assemble their information. The key bit is to identify which Building Code clauses are relevant to the product and in what sort of buildings (e.g. type, size, location) their compliance is valid.