National Construction Code
Much has been said about the cladding used at Grenfell Tower not complying with the standards in the United Kingdom.
This is for the appropriate British authorities to determine. However, there is an important distinction to be made between using a non-conforming product and using a product in a manner that does not comply with the requirements of the relevant codes and standards.
In understanding this distinction in an Australian context, the following terminology is relevant:
- Non-conforming product – a product that purports to be something it is not and is marketed or supplied with the intent to deceive those who intend using it
- Product not fit for purpose – a product used in situations where it does not comply with the requirements of the NCC
- Evidence of suitability – the process established in the NCC to demonstrate that a product is fit for purpose under the NCC
To illustrate these interpretations, here’s an example.
- A building product labelled or described as being non-combustible but is combustible is a non-conforming product.
- A building product that is combustible, and described as such, but is used in a situation where a non-combustible product is required under the NCC, is not fit for purpose (i.e. it is a product used in a manner that does not comply with the NCC).
Another way to consider what is non-conforming is that it relates exclusively to the product itself. In other words, the product is not what it claims it is. The non-compliant use of a product is typically associated with decisions by those in the chain of custody around how a product is used. This could be through substitution, ignorance of the requirements or through an unintended error.
If a product is not fit for its intended use then there is potential for it to become a greater risk. In all likelihood it wouldn’t have been tested for its alternative application and will be outside the manufacturer’s specification for its intended purpose.
In this respect it is also worth noting that installing a product contrary to the manufacturer’s specifications can compromise the stated performance of a product and potentially void any warranties. This is a form of non-compliant use and may simply result from a lack of care.
When building, it is important to ensure that product substitution does not occur (i.e. where a specified product meets the requirements of the NCC is substituted with one that does not). Also, following completion and occupation of a building, it is equally important for building owners and management bodies to ensure fire safety features continue operating as intended and are not compromised.
Australian Audit Underway
Since the fire at Grenfell Towers, most, if not all, Australian jurisdictions have commenced an audit of buildings to establish if there is any non-compliant use of external wall claddings. Importantly, in order to establish that this is the case means that such claddings do not comply with the NCC and any relevant referenced Standards.
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