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MBIE’s Building Performance team is reaching a critical stage in its range of reviews covering product assurance and certification.
Indeed, Building & Construction Minister, Jenny Salesa, is said to be pressing for recommendations by the end of the year which gives officials a tight timeframe for decision making.
The outcomes will give a clear indication of whether or not MBIE and the Minister are listening to both the supply chain and the wider industry about problems which need to be fixed – or whether both the sector and consumers yet again face procrastination.
From the supply side, BIF’s discussions to date with the products review team of MBIE’s Building Systems Performance have focused on proposals for change in the product assurance regulations and to the Building Act. but as far we know, indications are that it is not inclined to accept BIF’s proposal of mandatory assurance for high-risk products.
“In view of publicity over the past 12 months about product and systems failures and the uncertainties faced by both BCAs and industry members in the consenting process over such matters as high rise fire safety and the suitability of exterior claddings regulatory, clarity is urgently needed,” says BIF Chief Executive, Bruce Kohn.
“A concern exists that in dealing with a revision of CodeMark rules, MBIE will seek to turn this certification system into one which is as much about the provision of information as it is about certification.”
In which respect, BIF has questioned the availability for public scrutiny of the technical information which may be provided to certifying bodies.
This requirement could make accessible to all and sundry a supplier’s proprietary data setting out how the unique qualities of a particular product were developed.
“BIF has, and will continue to, oppose this,” says Bruce Kohn.
BIF says it has wide support within the supply chain for the establishment of a list or register of high risk products requiring high levels of test assurance and adds that this proposal has attracted strong support from within the wider industry, including the NZ Institute of Architects.
BIF has also proposed that the Building Act should be amended to make mandatory the responsibilities of builders, architects and product suppliers as provided in guidance set out in the Act.
This would require products and materials to be code compliant, that designers must specify code compliant products and that builders should build to specifications.
THE CHANNEL WANTS CHANGE
With all this in train, earlier this month we conducted a high level survey across the hardware channel including retail, builder’s supply merchants and product suppliers.
As you can see from the responses to our five key survey questions in the graphs around this article, the broader industry’s attitude is that the vast majority of those polled in our survey are looking for change and improvement to the product assurance regime.
Indeed, only 40% of our respondents said they were confident to very confident about the current product assurance / certification regime.
“We are being strangled by pedanticism and butt covering,” said one respondent, pulling no punches.
“We need to look at a system where a product is selected and allowed because it is fit for purpose.
“Does this mean a stricter investigation of imported product and/or more acceptance of international Standards?”
Another commented: “There are elements of the current process that are working, albeit these are largely driven by industry.
“MBIE has been very slow to recognise the issues and, where product failures arise, they largely fall between the cracks.”
According to another respondent: “In our own experience, the certification regime or assurance-providing agency has little understanding of properly installing and testing products that they are trying to evaluate.
“Their opinions on some assurances that require research instead of testing are costly for what is often already ‘known and established’.
“As a manufacturer, we end up performing more of the detail work to get a final certification, and it has cost us significant time and money…”
SLOW TO CHANGE OR SLOW BUT SURE?
Asked about the progress made so far towards an improved product assurance/certification scheme, those surveyed were split between those who think it’s been slow (47%) and those who accept that achieving an appropriate framework will and should simply take the time it needs (53%).
“The issue, from what I’ve seen, is that we are getting too grandiose and trying to develop too high level solutions. We have Standards. Confirm they are suitable. Test.
“Use product if it complies or to the level it complies with, within the scope of the test!”
With an air of resignation, others responded: “This is typically the way these things progress, so I guess I am resigned to it taking time, but hoping it will happen earlier.”
“I hear stories of product failures all the time – especially in relation to materials ex China. It would appear that not a lot has changed.”
ONE STANDARD FOR ALL?
Over half (53%) of our respondents said that inconsistency and delays by consent authorities in approving products and materials was a significant concern.
“Multiple interpretations of code clauses are resulting in widespread delays in consenting,” said one respondent.
“BRANZ appraisals are being asked for, even if the independent test certification is provided.”
“Unskilled staff at councils, lack of understanding around cost implications due to construction delays [and] a very casual approach to deal with matters by consent authority staff is a very big concern.
“For example, a minor variation should be approved on the same day.”
LOOKING FOR URGENT CHANGE?
80% of our respondents are looking for change and urgently, with communication from MBIE and Local Councils high on the list for improvement.
“Change could make our lives easier/better/less expensive,” said one respondent, albeit with the following qualification: “However, rushed change, without appropriate levels of investigation and development, will simply lead to other frustrations.
“Let’s understand what the problem really is before launching into change simply because we’re upset with the current system.”
Change should not however mean simply rolling over on manufacturers’ demands: “There needs to be greater emphasis on manufacturers to assure the market that the product will meet code, and greater enforcement where it’s proven not to.
“Other than the Commerce Commission and the steel mesh issue, product assurance breaches have been largely unchecked.”
POLICING THE “PRODUCT POLICE”
With this in mind, almost half (47%) of our respondents say they think MBIE doesn’t fully understand the working of the building performance system in practice with 40% saying they are unsure.
One respondent qualified this outlook: “I believe [MBIE] have an understanding, but are hamstrung by red tape, protectionism and political agenda. Look at their name – how can they have a true building focus when their responsibilities are this broad?”
This was a shared opinion: “They might understand their responsibility but MBIE has admitted it does not have the resources to implement policies, nor to police them. So what is the point of a policy without implementation?”
Another qualified positive was: “They are starting to demonstrate a willingness to understand and learn, but come from a very theoretical perspective.”
As stated above, although there is demand for and progress towards change around product assurance, we still haven’t yet learned what MBIE has in mind about the way forward for product assurance and CodeMark in particular.
We will stay abreast of news and developments as they’re made public.