The Shergold Weir Report & The National Construction Code

by Nov 5, 2020

The Shergold Weir Report… Building Confidence or False Hope?

The report ‘Building Confidence’ by Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir, addresses a number of major flaws to the National Construction Code (NCC) in regards to design, certification and the handover processes. But will it be enough to change entrenched organisational silos and industry culture?

The Report was commissioned by the Australian Building Ministers Forum. Its objective is to recommend improvements to compliance and enforcement systems under the National Construction Code (NCC) in Australia.

The Grenfell Tower fire in London, June 2017 and a similar cladding fire in Melbourne in November 2014 raised concerns about:

  • the certification and use of building products,
  • the design process,
  • independent certification and
  • owner information.
In January 2019 the Opal Tower debacle (structural defects) added weight to implementing the recommendations of the Shergold Weir Report.

The report makes 24 recommendations. A large number deal with tightened regulations, accreditation, governance, controls and the like. However on page 9 the authors provide an insightful quote that, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”. They add – “If the actions of individuals, organisations or government are visible, then pro-social behaviours are more assured and the need for legal or regulatory intervention is lessened.”

Problems identified in the Building Confidence Report;

    1. Documents do not reflect the as-built building, or
    2. They contain in sufficient detail to properly inform building risk and maintenance requirements
    3. The standard of documentation supporting performance solutions is poor.
    4. Limited documentation is prepared at the time building work commences
    5. A full set of final documents for a Commercial building * (which includes all relevant documents for the ongoing management of the building) is not usually collated and passed on to the owner or subsequent purchaser.

The report cited the following comment from the Fire Protection Association Australia;

“The often-overlooked importance of design and documentation is its role in the life cycle of the building beyond occupancy approval. Poor design documentation makes verification that essential safety systems and equipment continue to perform to the standard expected throughout the life of the building extremely difficult”.

*‘Commercial buildings’ refers to class 2–9 buildings, which includes multi-storey residential buildings and public buildings.
Shergold Weir Building Confidence Report - OmTrak

The following is a summary of recommendations to the National Construction Code that impact the provision of information:

Recommendation 13

Design practitioners to show compliance with NCC.

Building approval documentation to be prepared by appropriate categories of registered practitioners, demonstrating that the proposed building complies with the National Construction Code.

Recommendation 14

Adequate documentation for performance solutions

Specifying in occupancy certificates the circumstances in which performance solutions have been used and for what purpose.

Recommendation 16

Approval of documentation throughout the construction process

A building compliance process that incorporates clear obligations for the approval of amended documentation by the appointed building surveyor throughout a project.

Recommendation 20

A Building Manual for commercial buildings.

 That there be a comprehensive building manual for Commercial buildings that should be lodged with the building owners and made available to successive purchasers of the buildings.

Recommendation 20 is a critical element. 

In effect, the ‘Building Manual’ is the collation of all the data from prior approvals and certification.  The report states – “The building manual should be in a digital format and be required to have prescribed information such as:

  • As-built construction documentation;
  • Fire safety system details and maintenance requirements;
  • Assumptions made in any performance solution (for example, occupant characteristics);
  • Building product information, including certificates and details of maintenance or safety requirements; and
  • Conditions of use—such as occupant numbers, loads, replacement of products after certain periods (for example, glass after 25 years).
  • There should be a requirement for the manual to be provided to successive purchasers of the building.”

While the above recommendations are very sound, how will it be achieved in the face of an industry culture that sees the provision of proper information as a task to be avoided or handed to junior staff?  Add to these other regulations such as, the Work Health Safety Act, which requires both designers and contractors to provide specific information and you have a very complex system with multiple organisational and discipline silos to address.

Dr. Tom Crow, Engineers Australia has stated “the industry is very poor in its approach to managing the transition of a project to the operational phase”.  And has called for improved processes and education to better equip engineers to understand how to plan and deliver the right information at the right time for the right purpose.

However, organisations like Bunnings are taking a proactive approach.  They mandate the provision of completed Manuals as a pre-condition to contract acceptance and also include ‘owner information’ such as planning consents, compliance, and certifications that are often early design and non-builder related.  In fact, clients like Bunnings have reported that the inclusion of a more comprehensive Building Manual has substantially reduced their costs for due diligence and ongoing operation and maintenance.

We have included a link to the 2018 Shergold Weir Report and welcome any useful feedback.

https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/July%202018/document/pdf/building_ministers_forum_expert_assessment_-_building_confidence.pdf

UPDATE: Since this article was originally published, OmTraks parent company WebFM has partnered with Engineers Australia and Strata Communities Association to create a “Building Manuals Guideline” to help owners and developers meet recommendation 20. DOWNLOAD THE BUILDING MANUAL GUIDELINE HERE

The Building Ministers Forum has also formed a “Building Confidence Implementation Plan“, this plan includes regular jurisdictional updates on how the Australian States are reforming their regulations to meet the recommendations in the report.

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