PRODUCT CONFORMITY

There have been increasing reports of non-conforming products entering the Australian market, including structural steel bolts, structural plywood products, copper pipe tubing, fire collars and glass sheets. More recently there have been significant issues with electrical cable, inappropriate use of combustible cladding and products containing asbestos, and products with inadequate or false evidence of conformance to applicable standards. This has affected the safety and construction quality of Australian buildings.

The NCPR aims to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of conformity by designers, specifiers, contractors and manufacturers. However, the NCPR will not, by itself, prevent non-conforming products being used or the inappropriate use of products. Further, it will not prevent fraudulent evidence of conformity accompanying non-conforming products.

Product conformity

A definition

Product conformity is a term used to convey that a product meets specified conformance requirements. The conformance requirements for building products are often specified in standards. These are voluntary consensus documents setting out specifications and procedures to make sure products, services and systems are safe, reliable and consistently perform the way they are intended to perform. Conformity to standards is not compulsory. Their application is by choice unless they are mandated by government or called up in the building contract (generally in the specification).

AS ISO/IEC 17000—2005 Conformity assessment—Vocabulary and general principles does not include a definition of conformity on the grounds that “it is not necessary to do so. In this standard, the concept of 'conformity assessment' is concerned with 'fulfilment of specified requirements', not with the wider concept of 'conformity'. In English, the term 'compliance' is used to distinguish the action of doing what is required (e.g. an organisation 'complies' by making something conform or by fulfilling a regulatory requirement).”

Demonstrating product conformity

The fulfilment of specified requirements relating to a product, process, system, person or body is demonstrated by conformity assessment.

Where the means of demonstrating conformity is not included in the specified conformance requirements or is included as an advisory or informative part of the standard, the need for conformity assessment needs to be decided by the procurer.

Conformity assessment

The four main conformity assessment activities are:

  • Testing the product or a sample of the product.
  • Inspecting the product or a sample of the product.
  • Auditing the quality management system that covers the production of the product.
  • Assessing the product and production process associated with the product.

Conformity assessment activities may be carried out by the following parties, known as conformity assessment bodies or CABs:

  • 1st party: The manufacturer or supplier.
  • 2nd party: The purchaser and/or user.
  • 3rd party: An independent party that has no interest in the transaction between the first and second party.

Designers/specifiers, consenting authorities and contractors require reliable information to allow confident decision making. Different conformity assessment paths provide different levels of confidence that the product conforms to the specified requirements. The level of confidence required should be related to the level of risk associated with the application of the product. For products where the risk of failure is considered high and/or the consequences have health and safety impacts, third party certification is recommended.

Increased confidence in the product conformity assessment can be gained from a CAB which is accredited to perform the conformity assessment. Accreditation is a third third-party attestation of the competence of the CAB by an accreditation body.

Australia’s standards and conformance infrastructure

The following four bodies make up Australia’s standards and conformance infrastructure:

  • JAS-ANZ: Government appointed accreditation body for Australia and New Zealand responsible for providing accreditation of CABs that undertake management system, personnel and product certification, and inspections. www.jas-anz.org
  • NATA: Australia’s national authority for accreditation of laboratories and reference material producers. NATA is also recognised for the accreditation of inspection bodies and proficiencies testing scheme providers. www.nata.com.au
  • NMI: Responsible for coordinating Australia’s national measurement system and for establishing, maintaining and realising Australia’s units and standards of measurement. www.measurement.gov.au
  • Standards Australia: Concerned with the development and maintenance of national standards and other normative documents. www.standards.org.au

For more information visit www.industry.gov.au.

Product conformance and the National Construction Code (NCC)

“Every part of a building must be constructed in an appropriate manner to achieve the requirements of the BCA, using materials and construction being fit for the purpose for which they are intended including the provision of access for maintenance.”

-2016 BCA Volume 1 clause A2.1 Suitability of materials

Products used to comply with the NCC are generally those which affect the following:

  1. The structural stability of a building.
  2. Damp and weatherproofing of a building.
  3. Fire safety of a building.
  4. Health and amenity of building occupants.
  5. Safe movement, access and egress to and within a building.
  6. Energy efficiency of a building.

2016 NCC Volume 1 lists five forms of Evidence of Suitability of materials and construction. NCC Volumes 2 and 3 have parallel clauses.

BCA clause A2.2 Evidence of suitability

Subject to BCA Volume 1 clauses A2.3 and A2.4, evidence to support that the use of a material, form of construction or design meets a Performance Requirement or a Deemed-to-Satisfy Provision may be in the form of one or a combination of the following:

i)      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.

ii)     A current Certificate of Conformity or a current Certificate of Accreditation.

iii)    A certificate from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person which:

A)    certifies that a material, design, or form of construction complies with the requirements of the BCA; and

B)    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 upon.

iv)    A current certificate issued by a product certification body that has been accredited by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ).

v)     Any other form of 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.

The ABCB, a Council of Australian Government (COAG) standards writing body that is responsible for the development of the NCC, has reviewed the Evidence of Suitability provisions and issued NCC 2016 Volume One Amendment 1 Public Comment Draft for public comment.

The NCC does not specify exactly which type of evidence should be provided for any given building product (except plumbing products). Standards referenced in Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions may set out the documentary evidence required to verify conformance which may include labelling, stamping and certificates. Where there are no particular requirements set out or where a Performance Solution is being followed, the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) notes “this is a matter for the procurer and the building approval authority to determine.”

Non-conforming building products and the NCC

Non-conforming building products (NCBPs) and materials are those that:

  • Claim to be something they are not;
  • Do not meet required standards for their intended use; or
  • Are marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who use them.

This is different to non-compliant products (NCPs) and materials which are products or materials used in situations where they do not comply with the requirements of the NCC.

Lodge a query or report a suspected non-conforming building product at
abcb.gov.au/NCBP/Non-conforming-building-products/Lodge-a-query-or-report-a-suspected-NCBP

Principles for procurement and conformance of construction products

The Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC),  the peak council whose members are responsible for procurement, construction, asset management and property policy delivery for Australian State and Territory Governments, has developed principles to guide procurers on matters relating to the conformance of construction products. Applying these principles can help assist in making sure that selected products meet the appropriate standards and are fit for purpose.

For more information on the regulatory environment, determining the appropriate conformity assessment path and industry conformity assessment schemes, see Procurement of construction products – A guide to achieving compliance.

Specifying quality

For over 40 years, NATSPEC has been delivering the national comprehensive construction specification system endorsed by government and professional bodies. Basing the project specification on the NATSPEC master specification can assist in achieving a project of the required quality.

A construction specification should address the following:

  • PRODUCTS or SELECTIONS: Select proprietary products with documentary evidence of conformity, as required, or describe the products generically by including the material and performance properties. Make reference to relevant Australian or international standards. Search the National Construction Product Register (NCPR) for products which have evidence of conformity to relevant Australian and international standards.
  • SUBMISSIONS: For critical items, to make sure the product installed complies with the product/ performance specified, include requirements for the contractor to submit appropriate evidence of conformity and/or compliance.
  • INSPECTIONS: If required, allow for periodic inspections throughout the construction period to make sure no product has been substituted and the correct product is installed.
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