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By Niall McSweeney, Senior Director, Asia-Pacific | 4 August, 2020

Reforms in New South Wales promise to restore confidence in residential buildings, but we shouldn’t restrict our efforts to homes. Building quality is a problem across the industry – and that means it is everyone’s responsibility to fix it.

In June, two pieces of legislation – the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 and the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020 – imposed new obligations on design practitioners, engineers and builders.

These acts are part of the NSW Government’s response to the 2018 Shergold Weir report, Building Confidence, which scrutinised Australia’s building and construction compliance and enforcement systems after the combustible cladding crisis.

I’ve written before how rectifying defects and replacing combustible cladding is expected to cost an eye-watering $6.2 billion, and how 97% strata apartments in New South Wales have been found to have cracking, dangerous cladding or fire safety breaches that risk lives and put homeowners and investors out of pocket.

Around 4% of construction budgets are currently spent on rectification and rework – and one study found that as much of 20% of work is spent redoing what has already been done.

The NSW legislation imposes a statutory duty of care on those who carry out residential construction work, including the expectation that reasonable care will be taken to avoid economic loss caused by building defects.

When we neglect basic competencies in areas such as waterproofing, fire resistance and structural principles, we stand to pay more than a financial price.

In the case of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the desire to reduce cost prompted the replacement of zinc cladding initially proposed, with a lesser aluminium type product (ACM – Aluminium Composite Material). Quality control processes around the supply of the replacement option remain unclear as an inquiry into the tragedy continues.

Defects cannot be eliminated entirely, and we must accept that rework is part of the construction cycle. But developers with an eye on the long-term will mitigate the extent of those defects and ensure they are not detrimental to the quality of the finished product.

We often hear the proclamation that “tech will fix every problem”, but technology can’t compensate for people without the right skills in the first place.

Dig a little and underneath most defective work is a disconnected team of professionals who do not understand the limitations of their tradespeople, and tradespeople who do not understand the consequences of their choices. Better integration between both groups can deliver better buildings.

Education and training are also essential if reforms are to drive real change. Many pundits have pointed to declining entry standards that have eroded the quality of construction graduates leaving some universities. Others have criticised universities for focusing on arcane research with no real-world application.

I have five calls to action for each group with skin in the game:

  1. Industry: Balance the chase for the cheapest price against the quality of the ultimate product and consider its true lifecycle cost, not just its capital outlay.

 

  1. Government: Set consistent standards for asset quality for all government projects to raise best practice benchmarks and industry expectations.

 

  1. Educators: Work with industry to identify the skills gaps and build the knowledge base we need to work smarter, not harder.

 

  1. Professional bodies: Review accreditation standards to ensure they meet the market both today and tomorrow.

 

  1. Consumers: Do your homework to determine whether you are getting a quality product before you sign on the dotted line.

 

My message is clear. Reforms in residential construction are important, but our quest for quality must be far-reaching. Our challenge is to build new systems, processes and business models that prioritise transparency, trust and accountability and place the customer front and centre.

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