In the last few years, the safety and quality of Australia’s building stock has been subject to public scrutiny. Over the last 12 months, our industry has remained a strong economic force, and despite 2020’s many challenges, dedication to industry reform has never wavered.
One helpful blueprint for this reform has been the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence report commissioned by the Building Ministers Forum. Two of the recommendations (14 and 15) were centred around the documentation and approval of Performance Solutions, and as a fire engineer, these were of particular interest.
The report found that documentation supporting Performance Solutions were often inconsistent and of poor quality. They also concluded that the industry lacked a robust or transparent best-practice approval process
Making a change
The original report goes into much more detail about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of improving this facet of building compliance. However, those of us on the ground, required something more concrete. So, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has announced the introduction of Clause A2.2(4) into the NCC to improve the reliability of Performance Solutions. The new clause is:
As a Fire Engineer, I was struck by how similar this is to the recommendations in the International Fire Engineering Guidelines (IFEG). I’ve been following a similar Performance Solution delivery process since I started PBC back in 2015. So, I have compiled some tips, tricks and lessons I’ve learnt in my business to help those in other disciplines get a head start on this new requirement.
Performance-Based Design Brief (PBDB)
For Fire Engineers, the equivalent of a performance-based design brief (PBDB) is a Fire Engineering Brief (FEB). An FEB is prepared to ensure all project stakeholders are on the same page in three key areas:
1. The compliance approach
2. The assessment methodology for each solution
3. The acceptance criteria required to achieve compliance with the solution.
Sometimes, it can be perceived as a ‘need to have’ or ‘just another document’ by the design team. However, when correctly completed the FEB (or the PBDB) represents an opportunity to improve your client service and minimise project risk early in the process. You can manage client expectations and maximise your value as a design-team member all within the document.
Carry out analysis
In the case of many practitioners, the analysis stage of preparing a Performance Solution is the easiest part of the process. However, I think it is important to reiterate that with the provisions of the new process, the analysis needs to conform to your PBDB. This means that any changes to the methodology or acceptance criteria need to be captured, and without a revision to your FEB or PBDB, carry a risk until approved. Therefore, getting your methodology and acceptance criteria right at the start are critical in improving the traceability and transparency of your Performance Solution delivery process.
Again, when it comes to evaluating the results of our assessments, many practitioners find it easy. However, I think this step encompasses the (often overlooked) aspect of document management.
In my business we have found that a fit-for-purpose, reliable and cloud-based document management system has improved our bottom line. However, more importantly, it has made me confident that I can continue to be a reliable part of the design team well beyond the projects’ completion.
No matter how many office moves or laptop replacements my business goes through, I’ll have fast access to all the information I need to support and defend the Performance Solutions PBC creates. It makes communication smoother, documentation accessible and my working experience more seamless.
During this stage of the process, you need to consider two important aspects. The first is ensuring that your assessment meets the acceptance criteria. Whilst this may be as simple as referring to the FEB or PBDB, I believe it’s also important to consider documenting the ‘context’ around this decision-making process.
As practitioners, we are constantly moving from project to project, and the nitty-gritty details of why we make decisions become muddled. So, at PBC we use an online platform called BECODE to record the context and timeline of decision making on a clause- by-clause basis.
For your business it might mean recording meeting minutes or creating a flow chart. Regardless of how you decide to do this, having a way to demonstrate the context of your decision making will promote accountability and ensure you can support decisions you have made on a project, now and in the future.
Once again, reports are no mystery to building compliance practitioners. I’ve always found that completing reports throughout this process as opposed to directly after is the best way to maximise efficiency and manage workflow. Instead, I reserve this last stage for completing final details on a report, and ensuring they go through a robust quality assurance process (QAP).
If you haven’t looked at your QAP for a while, now is a great time. Ensuring it is realistic for your resources and pricing is important. However, more importantly you must ensure it gives you every opportunity to find mistakes and issues in your technical work.
It must also be a process that is carried out and understood by your entire team. If you’ve got a strong technical capability and a reliable Performance Solution delivery process that is consistently subject to a rigorous QAP, you will ensure everything you deliver is top-notch.
Building confidence one process at a time
Whilst any changes to legislation can be irksome and challenging, this process has been well used in the development of Fire Engineering Performance Solutions for more than 20 years. I think it provides a good framework to ensure a good minimum standard of documentation and process, whilst still giving every organisation the opportunity to make the Performance Solution delivery process their own. Conforming to the new changes in A2.2(4) provides a fantastic opportunity to re-evaluate your business practices and increase confidence in your expertise.
You will improve your client service, streamline your business processes, and contribute to a more reliable and robust standard of compliance. Re-establishing confidence in Australia’s construction industry is a large task, but it starts one building and one Performance Solution document at a time. By conforming to A2.2(4), you’re doing your part to improve compliance standards, reassure the public and restore the reputation of Australian buildings.
* Will Marshall was a member of the ABCB Subject Matter Network as part of work to increase the competent use and understanding of performance-based design (2018 to 2021).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author only and should not be construed in any way as having been endorsed, or as representing the views of the ABCB.