With Australia’s construction industry regulatory environment reaching a critical tipping point, the Australian Steel Institute (ASI) believes that government and industry must work together to implement the viable, cost-effective solutions available.

ASI Interim Chief Executive Phil Casey said, “Independent, third-party certification of safety critical construction products is a necessary component of the total solution to the building construction problems in Australia. In the current international procurement environment, the ASI is calling for stricter implementation and enforcement of existing independent structural steelwork compliance schemes to help ensure public safety.”

“Various state governments are currently examining and implementing recommendations from the recent Shergold Weir Building Confidence report, which is a step in the right direction.”

“However, there are some real areas of concern. There appears to be a tendency for implementing the easier recommendations, rather than adopting all in a sensible totality. There has also been a significant focus on registration of specific parties within the supply chain, at the risk of shifting focus away from ensuring noncompliant building product does not enter the supply chain to begin with. Finally, there appears to be a tendency to try to avoid fundamentally changing regulation—rather, Government is focused on quick fixes.”

As a result of this regulatory failure presided over by the Government, the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) recently announced that building surveyors will soon no longer be able to obtain exclusion free Professional Indemnity insurance policies. If this is not resolved, many private certifiers will not be able to practice, resulting in the severe dislocation of an already strained construction industry. Recent suggestions of Government perhaps allowing these exclusions would amount to a stop-gap measure, rather than addressing the fundamental issues.”

“There are viable cost-effective solutions currently available to help address the recommendations from Shergold Weir and improve compliance outcomes. In fact, a recent report from the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council outlined 12 principles for improved procurement outcomes (including third party certification), and provided a detailed list of a wide variety of certification schemes,” said Mr Casey.

One of the certification schemes developed by the ASI covers structural steelwork. The ASI has been proactive in developing and providing a range of tools to address noncompliant building product issues related to steel and fabricated steelwork, including:

  • AS/NZS 5131 Structural steelwork – Fabrication and erection to provide a solid foundation for defining what compliance looks like
  • The National Structural Steelwork Specification, which is the implementation tool for engineers to embed AS/NZS 5131 in design and construction practice

The National Structural Steelwork Compliance Scheme (NSSCS), an open scheme which provides Government and builders a mechanism to procure compliant steelwork from certified fabricators

“Australian Standards, such as AS/NZS 5131 are robust. Based on principles that have stood the test of time, these Australian Standards represent world’s best practice. Certification schemes such as the NSSCS, based on robust Standards, can provide the rigour necessary to ensure compliant product,” said Mr Casey.

“However, at the same time, it is important to recognise that the scope of some Australian certification schemes overlap. The gratuitous application of overlapping certification schemes places unnecessary cost and burden on the entire construction industry supply chain. For example, the NSSCS covers all parts of fabrication (including welding) and, in most instances, is all that is required to ensure the compliance of fabricated steelwork. As such, the specification of both Australian Standards and certification schemes needs to be carefully considered at the outset of any project.”

“ASI believes that a solution to the regulatory dislocation is in sight, but it will require both Government and industry to work together. Whilst industry can provide the tools, such as certification schemes, it is critical that Government provides and supports the regulatory and commercial ecosystem that will ensure these solutions gain traction.”

“The Government must lead by example and create an environment in which industry can develop and roll out third party certification tools. That means mandatory referencing of third-party certification of safety critical construction products in procurement documentation, as well as the provision of support for industry organisations such as ASI to raise awareness and provide training for the supply chain.”

“Non-compliant construction products are a demonstrable risk to the health and safety of our community. Our Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation prescribes a ‘duty of care’ for all involved stakeholders, including Government. This duty of care must be shared and actioned by both Government and industry. Therefore, the Government should review the WHS Regulation and the relevant Codes of Practice to more definitively draw the connection between non-compliant building products and risk-minimised WHS outcomes.”

“As a community, we need to ensure that our regulations are fit-for-purpose and supporting industry led initiatives are adopted and effectively monitored to retain public confidence in the building and construction sector,” said Mr Casey.