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 (referred to as Certification Bodies in NCC 2019) that undertake management system, personnel and product certification, and inspections. www.jas-anz.org
  • NATA: Australia’s national authority for accreditation of laboratories (referred to as Accredited Testing Laboratories in NCC 2019) 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)

“A building and plumbing or drainage installation must be constructed using materials, products, plumbing products, forms of construction and designs fit for their intended purpose to achieve the relevant requirements of the NCC.”
2019 BCA Volume 1 clause A5.0 Suitability

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.

NCC 2019 Volume 1 lists six forms of Evidence of Suitability of materials and construction. NCC Volumes 2 and 3 have parallel clauses.

BCA clause A5.2 Evidence of suitability-Volume One and Two

Subject to NCC 2019 Volume 1, Part A5.4, A5.5 and A5.6, evidence to support that the use of a material, product, form of construction or design meets a Performance Requirement or a Deemed to-Satisfy Provision may be in the form of any one, or any combination of the following:

a) A current CodeMark Australia or CodeMark Certificate of Conformity.

b) A current Certificate of Accreditation.

c) A current certificate, other than a certificate described in (a) and (b), issued by a certification body stating that the properties and performance of a material, product, form of construction or design fulfil specific requirements of the BCA.

(d) A report issued by an Accredited Testing Laboratory that—

(i) demonstrates that a material, product or form of construction fulfils specific requirements of the BCA; and

(ii) sets out the tests the material, product or form of construction has been subjected to and the results of those tests and any other relevant information that has been relied upon to demonstrate it fulfils specific requirements of the BCA.

(e) A certificate or report from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person that—

(i) certifies that a material, product, form of construction or design fulfils specific requirements of the BCA; and

(ii) sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant standards, specifications, rules, codes of practice or other publications have been relied upon to demonstrate it fulfils specific requirements of the BCA.

(f) Another form of documentary evidence, such as but not limited to a Product Technical Statement, that—

(i) demonstrates that a material, product or form of construction or design fulfils specific requirements of the BCA; and

(ii) sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant standards, specifications, rules, codes of practice or other publications have been relied upon to demonstrate it fulfils specific requirements of the BCA.

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  

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.