Sunday, January 27, 2013

More on Licensing

Read recently in "The Registered Building Practitioner", volume 1 Number 4 (summer 2012), a publication of the Victorian Building Commission , that there are calls by the Australian Glass and Glazing Association (AGGA) to introduce national licensing for all glazing professionals. This being an opportune time because of moves to introduce a national licensing scheme for builders and other trades.

Whilst I agree there are problems with glazing, especially worthless certificates issued declaring glazing is installed and compliant with AS 1288. The certificates are worthless because AS 1288 is now a materials design code dependent on the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the loading code AS1170. If the certificate does not identify the BCA classification, the structural importance level, and the AS1170 loading parameters, especially the barrier loading type, then the certificate hasn't stated anything of value. Licensing won't solve this problem. {Not the least of which I believe it is AGGA members issuing the certificates, in the first place, so they need to improve the training they provide.}

Licensing doesn't work for builders, plumbers or electricians. For that matter it also doesn't work for medical doctors, architects or engineers. Where "working" is protecting the community from unscrupulous and incompetent suppliers.

As far as I know when such licensing was introduced, there was not widespread incidence of low quality work being dumped on an unsuspecting population. Neither was the population stupid and in need of protecting by a guardian parent. All licensing schemes hidden behind the scenes are about protection and enlarging of markets by established players.

The established players typically start out supplying low quality rubbish, as they get bigger, they acquire the resources to develop and improve their product. At such point they have a scientific, technological and economic advantage over other players in the market. If they can get standards imposed and legislation passed to create performance criteria that new players cannot possibly meet, then the established players keep their lions share of the market, and prevent new players from entering, because the start up costs are too high. Secondly the smaller players already in the market will in the main be wiped out, allowing the older established players to grab markets back. For the real issue is loss of market share to new entrants to the market. The creation of standards, codes of practice and legislation is an alternative, back door approach to creating a cartel and establishing a monopoly. It is all acceptable because it is presented with an emotional base of protecting the welfare of the community.

Licensing doesn't work, it is a nonsense approach to protecting the welfare of the community. Licensing is a low quality QC (quality control) approach to product quality. QC does not prevent defects, it mostly provides traceability to who produced the defects so that the person can be found and punished. QC in a factory tends to prevent defective goods reaching the public, or at least retrieving the defective goods if the system missed them. For the building industry the public is the first to bump straight into the defective product, whilst construction is taking place.

If someone builds something without a license they will get fined, and possibly required to give assurance they will cease carrying on building works without a license. It doesn't matter whether the work is quality work or not, they are simply punished for not having the license. If a licensed builder produces low quality work, then they could loose their license, and be fined. In the age of the Internet these assurances and losses of license can be tracked at the office of business and consumer affairs website. Which is all very nice, but some poor customer experienced the low quality service. The licensing system didn't work when it was called upon to full fill its function: protect the public.

Occupational health safety and welfare (OHS&W) is another area where the QC approach is taken and it doesn't work. This time people get injured and reports about the incidents, whether it be caused by defective product or poor work practices is reported on the Internet at SafeWork SA.

Proponents of OHS&W regulation typically argue for higher penalties to provide a greater deterrent against non-compliance. Rather than focus on solving the real problem these people want to set up increasingly adversarial systems. If an employer is paying out ever increasing amounts on fines then they don't have the resources to fix the problem. Further more the regulations don't provide solutions. So an employer has to provide a safe work place but it is not stated exactly how. However since the 1980's responsibility has been split between employee and employer. Prior to that an employer may have been held 100% responsible for an employee not wearing safety glasses. Still earlier still it was just simply the employees problem. With responsibilities split the employee is required to wear the safety glasses, the employer may be required to supply, and the employer is also required to ensure the employee does wear the glasses. It is that latter part that becomes problematic. Personal protective equipment can be a hindrance to performing some tasks, or just plain inappropriate for the task environment. I remember several years back a railway engineer, asking why they needed to impose the wearing of safety helmets (hardhats), stating that sunhats would be more appropriate. Given that in the middle of no where it was highly unlikely anything would fall on anyone's head, construction work it may have been, but different than constructing buildings and bridges. Regulation gone crazy. With an adversarial system punishing for non-compliance, do not want silly impositions.

With such silly requirements imposed by adversarial system, it is not surprising that employers start to fight back. Demonstrating that what the pedantic inflexible officers enforcing the regulations want to impose is generating the hazard, not removing it. Finding the administrators and enforcers of the regulation at fault and guilty of causing accidents, then leads to creating regulations which distance the administrators and enforcers from liability. To do this the regulations become less explicit, more abstract, conceptual and generic. The result is a requirement to demonstrate through rational argument and use of scientific knowledge that a product and process are suitable for purpose and pose little hazard to life and limb.

Thus we have the BCA which is built around the concept of documentary evidence-of-suitability, rather than being built around authoritarian rule. It is governments which impose authoritarian rule by calling the BCA up in legislation, and similarly for the new national model code for OHS {welfare apparently not important nationally}.

As far as I can determine prior to the 1994 Development Act, people could just go to the local city council with a proposal of building works and council would assess and otherwise advise of changes to make before the proposal would be approved. The council is no longer permitted to do that. Both the BCA and the development act and regulations place the onus on the building proponent to demonstrate compliance by presenting adequate documentary evidence-of-suitability. Whilst expert judgement is one acceptable form of evidence, such evidence needs to be such that it can be validated by another such expert. In other words mere opinion is not acceptable it has to be rationalised and defendable judgement. If there was a coronal inquest, and the judgement would likely be tossed out off court, then it is not an acceptable judgement to defend granting approval.

It should also be noted that development approval only has a passing interest in OHS&W and the constructability of the building proposal. The assumption is that the building proponent has already determined that they can build the thing before approval is granted, or will otherwise figure out how to construct if approval can be obtained. Development approval is concerned with whether the building will pose a hazard to the community or to users once it exists in the built environment, it is not concerned with the feasibility of bringing it into existence, nor the safety of such construction process. Development approval may however cover some OHS&W issues if the work task to be carried out in the building space has a direct bearing on the design of the building. For example the design of a hazardous chemical facility requires design of the work space and a building to suit. To administer this process we now have building surveyors registered as private certifiers, but this does not ensure that the certifier has adequate competence to properly and thoroughly assess any building which crosses their desk. A whole team of people are required to get it near right, and most of the people involved have no form of license. though they may have various forms of formal higher education and certification of such.

The building works contractors act and regulations, is also misleading. It licenses building works contractors (BWC) and building works supervisors (BWS). The BWC license is mostly concerned with finances to start and finish a contract, ability to manage financial resources, and the provision of various warranties and insurances. The BWS license is concerned with planning, coordinating and supervising construction activity. A builder does not have to know what a bressemer, lintel, mullion, transom, corbel or dragon beam is. There task is to organise safe and supervise safe construction practices. Licenses however have traditionally been granted to carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and electricians, and are still so granted. Architects are assumed licensed for purposes of BWS, but otherwise require a BWC license if set up a construction company. Engineers, technologists and engineering associates are not included. It should however be noted that the building contractors act is mostly concerned with residential construction and protecting a public assumed to be uniformed buyers of builders services. In other words wouldn't really be looking for someone with a BWS to supervise construction of a bridge. The problem with construction of a bridge is cannot rely on the civil, structural or construction engineer having adequate competence to carry out the work. Engineers want national licensing and registration to restrict practice.

Once again I say that licensing doesn't work. It is not an adversarial QC system that we need to be putting into place, such are the type of systems we should be aiming to get rid off. We should be aiming for assurance of quality or quality assurance (QA). But unfortunately QC is so ingrained that attempts to implement QA get stuffed up by continuation of QC systems.

The very idea of wanting to get ISO:9000 accreditation means the party has not got QA philosophy or the right attitude to implement QA. One major attitude adjustment for QA is getting rid of the accept or reject mentally, wanting ISO:9000 accreditation means you still have such mentality.

ISO:9000 also fosters confusion about excessive documentation and traceability. Then there are confusions concerning getting rid of inspection.

When the 1994 development act was being brought in, there were pushes to implement QA, part of that led to councils eliminating their inspections of building works. A few years later a minsters report recommended inspecting a minimum of 20% of approvals. More recently the development act and regulations have been amended imposing 60% of approvals.

The simple rule for QA is:

Quality cannot be inspected in, it has to be designed in.

That is both product and process need to designed, and they need to be designed concurrently. That is an entire system has to be designed to supply and produce a quality product. Buildings and building products are not supply by systems which have been intentionally designed to provide quality product. All this custom design nonsense actually produces low quality rubbish and a failure to supply all that are in need. Would there really be problems with health care, water supply, housing and education around the world, if systems were properly designed to supply to the demand? I believe not. We have a problem because modern business is set up to generate monetary profits not supply demand. The assumption is if didn't meet demand wouldn't make profit. But missing the point, the supply is deliberately constrained and priced high, and so falls short of meeting the full demand.

To reduce variation in the production process also need to minimise product variety. Human nature being as it is, most builders simply just push forward on the basis of business as usual without reading the specifications continuously. Thus that small architectural feature, that outcrop in the wall disappears as the builder constructs a straight wall. Such loss of feature is not entirely the builders fault, it is largely the architects fault. If the architect wanted such feature, then they should have made it clearer, and otherwise been on site at appropriate times supervising and ensuring the building is constructed to specification. Unfortunately designers design, and others build. If a designer is on site then chances are they are not fully focused on the job, because their mind is elsewhere dreaming up their next innovation. So it is often necessary that functions of builder and designer be separated. But that then imposes need for coordination and communication, and the larger the team the greater the importance.

On one hand our civilisation is a massive industrial machine, on the other it is a living, growing and evolving organism. The machine is an assembly of cogs and each of these cogs needs maintaining, and replacing if the machine is to continue to function correctly. As a growing organism, the machine has to get larger and support more and more people, it needs more cogs to expand its capabilities. But it needs a nursery, somewhere it can nurture the growth and development of the new cells, which will sustain the growth and evolution of this higher form of life. As an evolving organism, the machine doesn't need all the cogs it needed yesterday, and it needs entirely new kinds of cogs to meet its needs tomorrow.

It is this evolution which makes licensing of engineers for example a dumb idea. Has I have mentioned before, to me engineers operate at the frontiers of science and technology. I am also fairly certain that, is also the stance taken by the IEAust in the past, and also that set down in the WFEO Washington accord. So like it or not, last years engineer is this years technician. Or if we use the WFEO occupational classes, then last years engineer, is this years engineering technologist, and last years engineering technologist is this years technician. The point is this, last year as a society we did not know how to design a reinforced concrete shell as a water tank. This year we do, so whilst last year it was a risky experiment, it is now an established technology, and we do not expect it to perform poorly. So whilst last year we needed someone with a B.Eng to figure out how to design the concrete water tank, this year we want someone with a B.Tech who knows exactly how to design a concrete water tank. Next year we will push it down to an engineering design technician, and the year after that we will just get on with building and installing them.

To create legislation in a society where B.Eng is seen as having prestige, though those with are constantly whining they don't, just causes inefficiencies and places lifes at risk. Lifes are placed at risk because the graduate with the B.Eng straight from school does not have adequate knowledge of the established technology, and it is adopting and adapting the established technologies where the real need exists. It thus becomes an imposition on industry to try and train those with a B.Eng to be competent for an occupation which more rightly belongs to those with a B.Tech or even an Associate Degree or Advanced Diploma. Higher education is good if its the right education at the right time and the right place.

Put simply by pushing the B.Eng we are maintaining the established scientific body of knowledge but industry and society is loosing the established body of knowledge concerning the established technologies it has become dependent upon. Such is not acceptable. The problem arise because the collective behaviour of individuals without coordination does not provide the systems necessary to provide the lifestyles and levels of performance the people have come to expect.

It is potentially the operation of systems which is more important than the behaviour of people. Most laws are created to deliberately constrain human behaviour, which some consider inappropriate. For such behaviour penalties or punishments are imposed. Most such laws are born out off our feudal and tribal pasts, our central government is little more than the remnants of the dominant tribe which wielded the greatest power over the region. So that laws are based mostly on might is right. Can impose any constraint on human behaviour you desire as long has have the might to enforce. As population grows, that might fizzles out.

So drivers licenses for example don't work.The roads are filled with people who exceed the speed limit. Must be community groups at least once a year express the opinion that government just uses speed cameras to generate revenue. With such revenue they buy more cameras, they do not improve the roads. Once again it is QC versus QA approach.

The QC approach is to use the statistics collected by the speed cameras to identify the hot spots, then to increase monitoring of the hotspots. This produces more speeding tickets and the accusations of just using for generating revenue.

The QA approach is to use the statistics to bring the process into control. People exceed the speed limit, fining them doesn't change their behaviour. Therefore calls to make the fines higher and a greater deterrent are just counter productive. People exceed the speed limit because they don't spend all their time watching the speedometer, and they shouldn't they are likely to drive into stobie pole. {Anyone noticed how recently cars have a mind of their own. The news keeps reporting cars left the road, car collided, car drove through house wall. Apparently none of the cars have drivers, it seems the machines are rebelling against their enslavement.}

People exceed the speed limit because the safest line to take is typically to match the speed of surrounding vehicles, assuming they are travelling at correct speed, if you enter the traffic flow without seeing a speed sign. Speedometers on cars are also not precision instruments, so there is variation in the speeds of cars in the traffic stream. Therefore fining people for things not entirely in their control is not acceptable.

So there maybe a particular hotspot. that doesn't mean should go fine everyone on that road. The QA task is determine why people exceed the speed limit and also is the speed limit appropriate. Rather than have the police operate speed cameras so that people can be punished for breach of the law, it would be preferable that the department of transport properly monitor the rubbish they dump in the built environment, and properly fix the defects. For example with the default speed limit being dropped from 60km/h to 50km/h there are now an inadequate number of speed limit signs. If enter road at the right place may see the 60km/h sign, if enter elsewhere may consider the street is 50km/h. Other places there are signs which are just inappropriate, for example 70km/h speed limits on bends, get round the bend and hit traffic jamb at traffic lights. For such location the speed limit should have stayed at 50km/h, and the 70km/h sign placed on the far side of the traffic lights. It is a simple design issue, possibly a faulty installation issue which is costly to put right.

No one should consider our roads are well designed and ever will be perfect, the task however is the journey of monitoring and improving our road designs, and then physically improving the roads. This will not be improved by licensing the civil engineers involved. It can only be improved by improving the systems which provide the roads and traffic control systems. It requires observing, measuring and recording the defects in the system and having other systems in place to take corrective action. An adversarial punitive system hinders getting appropriate information to make corrections and consequently the hazards remain.

Back to the glazing. There is no doubt that inappropriate glazing is being installed, and that some people have been injured as a consequence  There is also no doubt that many existing buildings have inappropriate glazing installed. Buildings which are work spaces, need to comply with the BCA. That statement is ambiguous. The development act requires a building comply with the BCA at the time of approval. If the BCA changes during construction there is seldom the requirement for the building to be upgraded to comply with current code. Nor is there any requirement to upgrade the building at any future date as the BCA is revised. However a work space, is governed by the OHS&W act and regulations, and it requires compliance with the BCA, whilst the building space is used as a work space. That is there is an implication that a work space complies with the BCA current at the time the building space is used for work: that means given the BCA is revised each and every year employers have to keep their buildings compliant. A business potentially could be shutdown because the buildings have become far too removed from compliance with current code. Note however the OHS&W regulations are only concerned with health and safety issues in the BCA, not energy efficiency or green requirements. However if the OHS&W requirements impose an air-conditioned environment and that needs constructing then it needs to comply with current BCA energy efficiency requirements. It just depends on the situation. Everything requires thought and consideration and designing to be fit for purpose: part of the fitness however is imposed by national codes of practice. Fitness for purpose however is primarily a matter of personal opinion, of subjective judgement. When it comes to codes of practice building little empires and the exercise of power through authoritarian rule. As a community we are increasingly prepared to slap such little dictators down.

I find it unacceptable that a judge finds a government department liable, because it should have known its clients would likely get angry, and in such anger smash glazing and injure themselves. The individual is responsible for getting angry and controlling their own behaviour, if they choose to lash out violently and injure themselves that is their own fault: it does not have anything to do with whether the glazing was appropriate or not. Similarly two youths fighting on a stairwell, and falling and one becoming a paraplegic, does not have anything to do with whether the stair balustrade was at a code compliant height or not. Fighting is unacceptable behaviour in a stairwell. The experts involved in such cases seem to have been more authoritarian pedantic idiots blindly imposing code clauses without thought to intent and origin.

A slightly different situation is two youths in stairs arguing and a third person attempts to get pass, is bumped and knocked over the balustrade. Whilst a higher code compliant balustrade would have reduced the likelihood of toppling over the top rail. it doesn't change the fact that the third person took an unnecessary risk, due to likely arrogance and impatience, nor that the youths should not have been arguing in a public place.

A balustrade set at the code compliant height is not safe nor suitable for all humans. Taller than average people will topple over, shorter than average people will fall under. Putting glass balustrades on stairs is inappropriate in my opinion, I would classify as bad design. The architects and glazers would say its code compliant. I don't care, code compliant or not it is bad design to put glass balustrade on a stairway in a public place. Just as it is bad design to the code to have horizontal rails, or any other feature which permits climbing, in a balustrade.

Solid infill panels on balustrades on stairways are poor design because children cannot properly reach and gain benefit from handrails. A lower hand rail would pose a climbing feature. Closely spaced vertical rails however provide an alternative support system, not only for children but also for persons who slip or otherwise loose their footing on the steps. Now I doubt the glazing industry would be in favour of reducing their market by eliminating glass balustrades from stairs. Not the least of which is that architecturally if glass balustrades are eliminated from the stairs, then likely also removed from the landings so as to achieve aesthetic continuity.

The problem with the glazing industry as with most industries, is the guy installing the glass is not independent they have a vested interest in making a sale. The buyer has a vested interest in keeping their immediate costs down. A could be and maybe, about some future accident, doesn't tend to figure heavily in purchasing decisions.

At present building surveyors are more heavily involved in granting approvals for development applications than acting as consultants to building owners and buyers of buildings.

A few years back there was a balcony or more of an external decking collapse. The captain of some school team and the school principal had organised some entertainment and lunch for mothers of students. This event took place at the school captains house rather than the school, the external decking collapsed and people were seriously injured. Now I don't know who has been held liable for such injury, but it should be noted that houses are not designed as places of assembly, whilst schools do have places designed for assembly. The school principal is responsible for the use of the school property in a correct manner and providing a safe working environment for school personnel, students, and visitors  A principal however has a multitude of other issue to worry about other than proper use of the school buildings. Consequently a school principal really should not make decisions about the use of various building spaces with out consultation with a building surveyor. As I noted above a work space has to be compliant with the current version of the BCA, not merely compliant at the point in time approval was granted to go ahead and build.

It would therefore be preferable that all building owners and/or employers have access to building consultants who carry out at least an annual check that no changes have taken place to the use of the space or to the BCA which would make the buildings cease to be compliant.

Take glazing in shopping centres for example. Such glazing is largely installed as a matter of interior fitout, whether development approval is sought or required is not always clear. As to whether the glazing needs to be designed for crowd loading or not is also another matter of opinion. It is a matter that needs to be considered, and then documentary evidence-of-suitability produced to demonstrate the need or lack of need for crowd load design. Is that a job for the glazier licensed or otherwise? I very much doubt it.

The person with the authority is the building surveyor, the person who grants provisional building rules consent, which then leads to the council granting development approval. If the use of a building is not changed then development plan consent is typically not required, but building rules consent may be required for changes to the building.

Change the layout of an office, a factory, a shopping centre, a hospital, a school, or even a house, then there is potential to introduce an hazard which wasn't previously present. So whilst may not require the services of an architect or engineer, it would still be good practice to seek the services of a building surveyor, for they are the people most familiar with the regulations. It should be noted however that building surveyors are not designers, they seldom can find a design solution which meets the end-users needs and complies with the code, their skill is assessing whether a proposal has achieved compliance with the code. So if looking for a solution will typically need the services of an architect, engineer or other designer: certainly not a drafter.

One of the issues which fuelled the growth of ISO:9000 accreditation is that of double inspection. Double inspection is wasteful, it refers to suppliers inspecting and approving their product before release to the customer, and the buyer not trusting the supplier and inspecting and approving before releasing into their production process  May have noticed from the news that all the car industry seems capable of doing is tracing defective goods after release and recalling to fix the problem. The point of QA is not to release defective product in the first, not make make defective product, and not to release a defective design to production. I reiterate quality cannot be inspected in, it has to be designed in. Both product and process have to be designed, entire production and distribution systems need to be designed: not just some widget.

Our primary control systems are built around government regulations and codes of practice, and building surveyors are the primary guardians of compliance for the built environment. However our legal system is built around evidence. No one really cares if the building surveyor, architect or engineer says something is adequate. Adequacy has to be proven. The regulation for the built environment are built around conceptual proof of adequacy before permitting a potential hazard to be placed in the built environment.

The problem with the system is that it can only assess building proposals if a proposal is submitted for approval. Secondly it has been reduced to a paper shuffling exercise, thus no independent checks and balances that the approved designs have been complied with. The certificate of compliance issued by the builder which constructed the building is not independent, not even if it does require signing by the owner/buyer.

People think they can do what ever they want on their own property. In theory they can, on condition that:

  1. What they do on their property stays on their property.
  2. What they do on their property does not have an impact on neighbouring properties.
  3. The property remains their property.

As soon as changes to property involve other people, then it becomes necessary to consider the expectations of the population at large, and these expectations are largely catered for by the codes of practice and regulations.

I don't care if a glazier is licensed or not. What I care about is the quality of the product they supply, and a license does not and cannot ensure such.

Given time I could design a business enterprise which provides construction services which far exceed the capabilities of a licensed builder, the regulatory system would require I appoint a licensed building works supervisor (BWS). Since the regulations do not permit me to lock the BWS in a cupboard and keep them from being a nuisance and messing things up, I would have to design the system to cater for the presence of a useless cog (the BWS). They think they are useful, I think they are a public menace. A carpenter should not be granted a BWC or BWS, a competent and capable carpenter they may be, but that doesn't mean they have the skills to supervise others and coordinate the needs of large building projects. The BWS license is not about competency as a carpenter, bricklayer, concreter or glazier. The BWS is about the competency to plan, design and manage the construction works, and that may require coordinating the work of one or more trades. It certainly involves getting other people to do the work. A brick layer may be able to work on his own, however he seldom makes his own bricks, and consequently he has to plan the works, which may involve the delivery of bricks in appropriate sized batches at suitable times. Depending on the company a brick layer works for they may never have to work such things out because some one else organises all resources for the project. Business systems can determine the efficiency with which a product is supplied and the quality of that product.

The problem with the building industry is far too many sole practitioners, and consequently an unwarranted division of labour, along with poor coordination, and unclear lines of authority and responsibility. I was watching some engineering construction programme the other day, and one of the bosses said there was a problem with their being too many people in charge, should only have two bosses. No! Unity of command should not be violated. If there is an hierarchy then only obey your immediate boss, sure risk getting fired by the bosses superior: but the superior should only act through their appointed officers. So either the appointed officer hands control over to their superior, or the superior removes the appointed officer. The hierarchy is their for a reason. The front line personnel have different information then the staff, and the staff have a bigger picture than the front line.

The building industry lacks clear lines of authority, responsibility and command. Not the least of which is most trades people running around thinking they are not responsible for anything and council responsible for everything. They only seek certificates from engineers, on the assumption they are not responsible and the engineer becomes responsible. Big mistake. All the sales people making use of engineers certificates are taking on role of designer, and are the person responsible in charge of the project.

That shed the sales person sold last week. Well the design was perfectly correct in its own right, but it was totally unsuitable for the customers purposes, and the sales person is responsible for declaring the product was suitable for the customers needs. Ah! But the salesperson will says its not their fault the council approved it. So they did. But the salesperson didn't disclose the real purpose of the building in the development application, though the customer did clearly point out what they wanted the building for. The sales person is acting has designer, lacks suitable qualifications to do so, and doesn't carry professional indemnity insurance, though the employer may carry appropriate insurance to cover  supply of product which proves defective.

Similar situation exists for fabricated nail plated roof trusses, carports and verandah's, stairs, balustrades, retaining walls and a multitude of other building products. Most products however are subject to the requirements of fair trading laws: and not covered by any product specific regulations.

Now retaining walls was another issue raised in the Registered Building Practitioner publication. More important than the retaining wall here is the issue raised: that is certain building works say those below $5000 do not require licenses or builders warranties. Therefore quote the work below $5000 dollars or what ever limit applies, and provide without appropriate warranties.

A similar issue applies to size of building works which require development approval. Some think the constraint applies to each construction contract, rather than the development of the property. So for example, if works less than 10sq.m don't require approval: split the work into smaller portions less than 10 sq.m. Within a few years time have 100 sq.m of development. Such is not the intent of the code, and the 100sq.m of development to the property would be illegal without development approval. To be certain about approval, proposals should be documented, then a building surveyor consulted for guidance as to whether approval is needed.

Now people do these things because development approval is seen as too time consuming and too inflexible, so they build without approval, and it seems even find builders who will build without approvals.

But peoples perception of city councils come from plan drafters, builders and their own encounters with council: basically people who themselves don't know what they are doing. For example builders regularly tell their clients that council always changing the rules. Not true, council rarely changes the rules, even in BCA is revised each year. The builders don't know the rules, the builders know prescriptive building solutions which comply with the rules most of the time, but not all of the time. When they hit the situation of the building solution not complying with the actual rules, the builders think the rules have been changed, and otherwise find themselves unable to find a suitable building solution.

The principal problem lies with the buyers and the suppliers. The buyers don't want to waste time on design, they therefore do not want to waste time with architects, engineers and other design consultants. They also think builders fees are extortionate for little service. Consequently we also have a large DIY owner-builder culture: they can organise supply of trades(subbies) themselves, and check quality of work they are paying for. More importantly however they mostly just want to buy off-the-shelf product which immediately meets their needs. Consequently they either go direct to suppliers which sell complete building products (eg. sheds, carports, verandah's, retaining walls, houses etc...).

What they really need is an independent consultant to look after their needs, however architects, and engineers are clearly not those consultants. The BWS works for the contractor (BWC) or is the BWC, there is thus no independent representation of the owners needs, with council inspections cut back a safeguard for the public was removed.

But there was also a socio-political action in play. Councils were reducing costs, laying people off, cutting back on inspections and not properly replacing the function removed, means the workers displaced, would justify their value and eventual return. And return they have with new regulatory requirement of inspection of works for 60% of approvals. Such return was not necessary, but HIA and MBA didn't focus on QA, and their members wouldn't go with signing off and taking responsibility for their actions. Whilst I oppose the proposal that would have made it mandatory, I don't oppose the principle. Either the BWS or the carpenter should sign off, on the carpentry works. At the very minimum they should be identified, just like movie credits. This should not generate a mass of paper work. One single piece of paper identifying all suppliers to the project, where is the hurdle in that: orders have to be sent to all. Ah! But the tax office has a problem with the building industry: undisclosed income, and questionable expenses. It seems many builders don't want to document anything, they like money under the counter, and documenting stuff could interfere with that. Well for the householder fuelling the cash economy likely to get you low quality rubbish without any warranty.

So don't want to impose a system, but provide a system. Private industry always saying it can do better than government but it seldom ever proves.  We let it take over the hospitals, it stuffed it up. Take over water supply, and the infrastructure not properly maintained: as to who is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure government or private industry, is not overly clear. A good political outcome maybe: confuse the public.

So the public cannot rely on the licensed builder nor a more specifically licensed glazier. Also the public cannot rely on the government, it may have brought council building inspections back, but it can get rid of them again. Further it needs to build staff back up to do the inspections, or it will outsource the work. Out sourcing is probably the most likely option, getting the private certifiers to do inspections.

It should be noted that people oppose increasing council rates and government taxes. Public servants tend to become complacent, arrogant and otherwise see themselves as masters, with expectations of privilege. That is they ultimately reap the rewards of their job position, but fail to do the job properly. They declare they cannot do the job properly because they are over worked and more people are required. Typically not really over worked just appalling poor managers, continuing with inefficient processes.

Independent consultants who lack the job protection of public servants are a better option, they are more likely to think of better ways of doing the job, than repeating same old behaviour. The building inspections of the past by local government inspectors were not good enough, its unlikely the new inspections are going to be good enough.

There are several problems:

1) Failure to document proposals
2) Failure to seek development approval
3) Failure to control quality of materials and components
4) Failure to control quality of work processes

There is no point in an inspector saying you got it wrong, fix it! The builder should get it right in the first place, and the threat of a building inspector visiting isn't going to make them get it right. The threat of an official inspection is really more concerned with the builder who has no intention of getting it right and doesn't care. Most defects however are a consequence of poor design and poor selection of construction processes, and otherwise unavoidable human error.

The first problem to sort out is manufacturers and suppliers having proper technical specifications for there product. For example when my client directs me to an interstate glass supplier, and I request the mechanical and physical properties of their laminated glass, I don't expect to be directed to a consulting engineer in yet another state. When we then change to a local supplier, I don't expect that supplier to then direct me to the exact same consultant in the other state. The manufacturer of the glass should be monitoring and controlling the mechanical and physical properties of its glass product and ensuring it is complying with the specification for that product. It should therefore know the properties of its product, if it doesn't then it should stop supplying to both the public and to trades.

The builder and or glazier has to be able to supply glass to a project which complies to the project specification, some rubbish about it complying with AS1288 is not acceptable. If the glass manufacturers do not have proper technical specifications for their product then the builders cannot demonstrate they have supplied suitable glass to a project.

We already have builders licensing as already indicated it is concerned with supervision of works not the competence in the execution of the works. So whilst carpenters, brick layers may get the licenses, the license is not about their competence as carpenters and brick layers. Also in South Australia most licenses are restricted (RL) and the restrictions concern a system a physical product rather than a trade. For example restrictions to carports and verandahs, to steel sheds, to residential concrete slabs and footings, to retaining walls.

So if glaziers not already operating under a restricted license, then why not? Is it because the works are typically less than $5000 dollars. I doubt that the windows for an entire house are less than $5000 dollars. But then a window is a product, comprising of timber and or aluminium frames plus glass. The glass installed in a factory. Should the factory workers be licensed glaziers? I don't believe so, they should be supervised by persons assuring compliance with a specification. On site the windows are framed, so no working directly with glass, so does general builder or carpenter install the window? What exactly is a glaziers license going to be for? How much conflict and overlap is there going to be with other trades. Windows are a specialist product and do need installing to a specific specification, but what does a glazier know about windows as a complete system. Most window manufacturers declare their window frames are not structural: that is rubbish the frame has to be structural, the window has to support the wind loads and transfer to the main frame of the building. The frames are not however designed to support surrounding structure, such as the roof over.

Licensing starts looking like trade unions creating closed shops across an entire industry, and industry associations and technical societies start looking like trade unions and cartels.

We need to push back from the builders along the industrial food chain to the retailers, the suppliers, the importers and the manufacturers.

Whilst choice magazine does some independent tests on the quality of products in the market place, it does not represent large scale testing and control of product entering the market place.

Its really the big DIY stores, and trade hardware stores that we should focus our attack on defects, and from those stores push back at their wholesalers, and from them to the manufacturers. Supply officers need to be capable of more then simply negotiating prices. The product has to be the right product and in the right condition. Supply officers may get cheaper product, but its seldom the right product.

For example cold-formed steel sheds are typically specified as fabricated from Lysaght C-sections, but builders find cheaper suppliers, apparently they can get for half the price. The problem is that Lysaght and most other Australian suppliers use steel with minimum yield strength of fy=450MPa. The cheaper imported product is either not made to any specification or made to British or American specifications. The British c-sections are typically from steel with fy=280MPa, they may have some high strength versions at fy=390MPa, either way it doesn't match the specification required for the shed. If the imported steel is cheaper, then get the shed designed for the steel used, don't arbitrarily substitute materials or components.

When it comes to windows and glass balustrades the question is whether the glass supplied meets the BCA requirements for the location installed. I content the glazier and sales person is not qualified to make that judgement and neither is the householder or other building owner. The installation maybe small enough and of such a cost it doesn't require development approval or a licensed builder. But that does not mean it does not need to comply with the BCA or any other code of practice.

So I reiterate the building owner needs to employ an independent consultant to advise, inspect and supervise building works, not rely on local government inspections or licensed builders supplying. Builders licensing doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the work, just getting it done. And local government inspectors task is to ensure compliance with code requirements, not check with the owners expectations are met. An independent consultant employed by the owner keeps an eye on things for the owner. With in the current occupational framework the most suitable person for that task would appear to be a building surveyor. Architects and/or engineers may be suitable for such task, however their primary task is design and then supervising implementation of their designs. Most things in the building industry require neither an architect or engineer to design, however design and proper documentary specification is required.

I said quality cannot be inspected in, it has to be designed in. Also that it is not the purpose of QA to eliminate inspection. Rather QA has infinite inspection, or continuous monitoring of process. With QC, inspection is carried out at too late a point in the process. So for example an engineer or representative inspects the footing reo and declares its not correct. The footing contractor then has to fix the defect and the inspector return to check the defect is fixed and other defects haven't been introduced. Proper supervision gets it right in the first place and corrects throughout the process, consequently their is no need for end of process inspection.

Similarly local government building inspectors go out inspect and its already too late: time and materials have already been wasted getting it wrong.

The double inspection situation with suppliers is wasteful, but that doesn't mean the buyer relies on some third party certification and trusts the supplier. It means the buyer has a choice to make or buy, having chosen to buy they have to go check the capability of the supplier to provide product to their specifications or check that the suppliers off-the-shelf product is suitable for their purpose.

For example, back to the glazing, I said the glass manufacturer seems unable to provide a technical specification and that is unacceptable. On the otherhand grout manufacturers have a technical specification, however they will not supply the information I need. This I find acceptable. My client is not using the grout for a purpose the grout manufacturer supports and does not want to be held liable if it fails. Its a minor market with a minor use, why have their product fall in disrepute over such usage, when perfectly fine for the purpose they wish to promote.

It is the responsibility of the end-user to assess the suitability of the product. If the use of the grout for such purpose increases then the grout manufacturer may do their own testing apply suitable conservative design factors and promote further use. The result is that new entrants to the field making use of the grout may not be able to achieve by calculation using the grout manufacturers data, the same results that established players can achieve. They may then want to protest. But end-users like my client have done their own testing for their purposes and the grout manufacturers data does not invalidate my clients designs. The problem is new entrants have to do their own testing and not rely on conservative calculations based on conservative general purpose design data. For example the grout manufacturer may always apply a design factor of 3, such may be excessively over conservative for some applications. Each product designer needs to determine suitable performance criteria for their product and not just blindly comply with national standards and codes of practice which are extremely general in nature. Its necessary to get to the specifics.

So should not rely on suppliers being ISO:9000 accredited, nor rely on suppliers quality systems, nor rely on a bit of paper. The property class 8.8 bolt is fully informed about being compliant or not. The piece of paper saying its compliant may be fraudulent. The actual bolt can be tested, and the microstructure of the steel can be examined to get some idea of its heat treatment history.

A good manufacturer will conduct such testing themselves. So a producer who needs such bolts will either test bolts received or go to the suppliers and ensure the supplier has appropriate facilities to test the bolts they make. If the supplier has appropriate facilities, then the buyer may dismiss with regular inhouse testing of bolts received.

The problem is that there is now a great deal of outsourcing and middle men suppliers between manufacturers and end-users. Those bolts you thought were sourced from a reliable manufacturer get outsourced to an unreliable manufacturer. In the blink of an eye the manufacturer becomes a third party distributor who doesn't make anything.

So first and fore most business to business supply officers and supply and distribution systems need improving to properly control quality materials and components to the building industry.

For example if say an hardware store like Bianco certifies that the bolts it supplies are PC 8.8 then it is accepting responsibility for such assertion, not passing the buck onto its suppliers. Therefore if the bolts turn out not to be PC8.8 it is Bianco that will be targeted and held responsible for supply of defective goods. To make such assertion sensibly then Bianco would require systems in place to ensure that its suppliers do supply proper product. Such however would be an extra cost, and potentially not viable if loosing sales to the large DIY hardware stores which increasingly supply the building trades.

These large retailers and smaller manufacturers are largely capable of supplying at lower price because they don't overly care about the source of supplies and don't control such supplies.

The quality of the timber, steel, concrete, brick, and glass which goes into a building is dependent on characteristics which are not visible. Cannot simply look at a piece of timber and determine its strength. Bad example, actually can, the strength grade F7 etc ... is a visual grading system, its not very consistent though and its slow, hence machine graded pine MGP grades. Still if the timber is painted its difficult to grade it.

Design and engineering is primarily about controlling inputs so that have a high level of confidence about the quality and performance of the outputs.

Licensing of people controls an input, but not an appropriate input.The very process of granting licenses is low quality, based on QC principles. Education takes place and examinations carried out at the end, resources wasted on people not able to pass the exam. The examination candidate themselves just as unaware of their inability to pass the exam as the educators and examiners are.

The problem: the education system doesn't have continuous monitoring and in-process correction. Secondly the license was granted yesterday: it doesn't mean the licensee is competent today or in any way capable of self-determination of the limitations of their own skills and ability to handle the current project placed before them. If they don't try they won't know. But that trying may cause their client a lot of hassle.

Business, industry and society are failing to sustain needed skills and retain established knowledge. That individual over there can handle complex projects, the individual over here cannot. That business over there was able to handle complex projects last week, but this week it cannot. People flow in and out off industries, and neither the businesses or the industries are appropriately designed to retain knowledge and skills. Creating licensing which restricts the supply of skills further is not helpful.

Qualification frameworks are helpful, but its not productive to talk about restrictive licensing for limited skill sets. Educate and train people for certain but never institute a system that thinks there's one and only one way to do something. It is not the performance of the glazing which is an issue its the performance of the building system which is at issue. The balustrade doesn't meet the specification for the appropriate loading. The window is made from the incorrect type of glass for its location. These are design and specification issues and cannot be complied with if no one has done any design and no one has written a specification, and no one has contracted to supply to the specification.

Most contracts are of the form that you get what is supplied. If seek out the lowest possible price then don't be surprised if it is cheap non-compliant rubbish. If someone says they supply to the code then they typically supplying low quality rubbish, and if the code wasn't there it would probably be lower quality still. Really want the supplier who says this is what the code permits, this is what we supply and here is why we don't think the codes good enough to meet your needs. Now just because they believe the code is not good enough doesn't mean the code should be revised and a higher level of performance imposed on everyone. The codes are minimum acceptable standards, not a requirement that cannot be surpassed. The concept that cannot compete if exceed the minimum is also nonsense. Manufacturers have entered markets and wiped them out with products several times more expensive then the existing offering. Quality and performance matter and if real value is there people will pay the higher price.

The problem with the building industry is the quality is not there to be seen and higher prices therefore do not appear justified. The problem is the regulations the licensing. There is an expectation of compliance with the code. But the industry participants promote themselves on the basis of they comply with the code whilst everyone else doesn't. Bad approach. In other words mere compliance is the best you can hope for, chances are however likely to get a dud.

Whilst the building industry is extremely inefficient and low quality, its not totally useless dumping complete rubbish in the built environment. It just needs better process control in place, and local government building inspectors and licensing systems are not proper controls.

So if a building owner get a building surveyor to check out the building before you buy it. If want to modify a building get a building surveyor to check over the proposals. If an employer get a building surveyor to regularly review your building. Do not wait until seek development approval to get a building surveyor, the private certifier has a different function to perform. If refer to the legal system then the private certifier is the building surveyor for the prosecution, declaring the proposal is a hazard, the building surveyor typically missing from the equation is that for the defence demonstrating the proposal is not a hazard. If haven't had a consultant building surveyor review the plans then basically wasting the approval authorities time. Do not do that.

Put simply consulting building surveyors can significantly change the building industry. Most existing buildings do not comply with the current version of the BCA, that provides significant opportunity for improvement of the building. Such improvement has a cost, such cost provides opportunity to knock the sale price of existing housing down. The buildings can become worthless and in need of demolition.

Now those glass doors and the full height window beside. How can we establish they comply with the current BCA? Does the building owner have appropriate documentary evidence, they have a certificate which states complies with AS1288: so the basic answer is no, for such certificate is worthless. Now how do we check the type of glass which has been installed, without reference to paper documents? How do we determine the loading the glass should be specified suitable for? Is it possible to safely test and inspect the glass on site, without destroying and need to replace the glass? If not then see the importance of controlling the inputs, and having reliable trustworthy documentary evidence of such control.

Sun 2013-Jan-27  01:09