New Construction Product Register

Emma Green , 7 February 2019

NATSPEC’s National Construction Product Register (NCPR) is a new tool to ensure quality control and reduce the number of non-conforming products in the Australian built environment. Emma Green from NATSPEC Communications tells us more about how it works.

Australia has a performance-based building regulation, so it is important for architects to document the Australian Standards relating to their product selection within their construction specification. The National Construction Product Register has been designed by NATSPEC to help architects and other building industry professionals check whether products have trusted evidence of suitability, mitigating the risks of non-conforming building products.

What is the NCPR?

The National Construction Product Register (NCPR) is a new initiative to help ensure quality control and reduce the risks associated with products that do not conform to Australian Standards. It is a freely available, searchable online public database that brings important information about the conformity and suitability of building products and materials together in one place. An asset for architects and other building professionals, the database simplifies the process of researching and checking appropriate products. Users can be sure of the validity of each listed product’s certification.

NATSPEC is a not-for-profit, Government- and industry-owned organisation, with the key aim of improving construction quality in Australia. Government departments and industry organisations support NATSPEC as the developer of the product register because it is not involved in any advocacy or policy development. NATSPEC maintains the National Building Specification for Australia and has been a valuable part of the construction industry for over 40 years.

How does the NCPR work?

A listing on the NCPR does not represent an endorsement by NATSPEC, but rather NATSPEC’s verification of its evidence of conformity. NATSPEC is not a conformity assessment body (CAB), so it relies on conformity assessments performed by other organisations. Each CAB has been certified by an accreditation body. The main accreditation bodies in Australia are the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) and the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA). Australia also has mutual recognition and multilateral recognition agreements in place with several other countries. This means that NATSPEC accepts CABs accredited by organisations such as SAC in Singapore, COFRAC in France and IAS in the United States.

Architects can encourage the manufacturers of their preferred products and materials to make an application to the NCPR so that each product’s suitability can be verified and it can be listed in the register. The absence of a product from the register does not necessarily indicate that it is non-conforming or has invalid certification. Already a comprehensive database, the NCPR will only continue to grow, improving Australian construction quality as it does so.

Why is the NCPR important?

In the early hours of the morning in Melbourne’s Docklands in November 2014, fire raced up 13 storeys of the facade of the Lacrosse Building in approximately 10 minutes. The speed of the flames was unprecedented. There were no fatalities, but almost 500 people were evacuated from the 23-storey tower and needed emergency accommodation. The fire caused an estimated $2 million in damage.

The speed at which the fire spread up the building’s exterior was alarming. A contributing factor was later found to be the type of aluminium composite panels used as cladding: an example of an inappropriately used building product in the Australian market.

The risks associated with non-conforming building products were also highlighted in 2017 by the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Similar to the Lacrosse Building fire, the flames rapidly engulfed the outside of the tower. However, the fire in Melbourne only damaged the building, whereas the Grenfell Tower fire caused 72 deaths. Incidences of combustible cladding have also occurred in the United States, France and the United Arab Emirates, all within the last 12 years.

These risks are not confined to combustible cladding. Incidences of non-conforming products and materials have become increasingly common over the last decade due to higher rates of importation, fraudulent certification documents and even the difficulty of knowing whether a product is deemed suitable according to Australian codes and standards. Though there has been a total ban of the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of all forms of asbestos in Australia since 2003, it has been found in imported materials in recent times. Some structural steel bolts, copper pipe tubing, electrical cables and glass sheets have also been discovered to be non-conforming building products. Between 2010 and 2013, over 5500 kilometres of faulty electrical cabling was installed in homes around the country. In August 2015, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued a mandatory national recall of these cables, which were imported by Infinity Cable Co Pty Ltd. It was found that they had not been tested to Australian Standards. The cables’ plastic insulation coating becomes prematurely brittle and presents both an electric shock risk and a risk of fire. Close to half of the dangerous cabling is yet to be identified in Australian homes and buildings.

The prevalence of non-conforming building products can, in part, be attributed to the struggle that professionals have in checking that their desired products conform, as well as in finding suitable substitute products. There are six forms of evidence of suitability accepted by the National Construction Code (NCC). NATSPEC authenticates this evidence before including a product in the NCPR, therefore both improving accessibility to the certification information and mitigating the risk of fraudulent certification.

Who is taking action?

The NCPR is one of several responses to non-conforming building products – and a very timely one. A Senate inquiry report was completed at the end of 2018; the report Building Confidence, commissioned by the Building Ministers’ Forum, was published by independent experts Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir one year ago; and governments throughout Australia have initiated audits to examine thousands of private and public buildings. Non-conforming building products are no small problem.

The many examples noted above show how non-conforming building products can be hard to detect until they fail after the project’s completion, when businesses, individuals or governments are already using the building. Designed to be used throughout the process of design and construction, the NCPR assists professionals in ensuring they are choosing the best products for their project.

For further information, and to check the conformity and validity of products with ease, visit the NCPR website.