The Warren Centre’s response to Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019

Release of the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 for Public Consultation

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On behalf of The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering let me congratulate the Government on taking this important initiative to strengthen the controls on practitioners which is aimed at improving the quality and safety of the design and construction of buildings in NSW. This is an important step towards implementing the recommendations of the Shergold/Weir Report and rebuilding confidence with building owners and occupiers.

The Warren Centre continues to conduct an important research project on “Professionalising Fire Safety Engineering” which has addressed the shortcomings in relation to regulatory controls, registration, professional accreditation, design practices and construction verifications. In a similar way to this proposed legislation, this important research is directly addressing the Shergold/Weir recommendations which apply to fire safety engineers (FSEs) but which in many ways equally apply to other building practitioners.

In terms of the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019, we see many parallels between the proposed legislation and the findings and recommendations of our research and offer the following comments:

  • We note that under Section 5 regulated design includes building elements and performance solutions which is what FSEs are generally engaged to address in a building project.
  • The prescribed building elements under Section 6 include fire safety systems, internal and external load bearing elements (and their fire protection), and parts of building enclosures (facades), all elements which involve FSEs having input to their fire safety design.
  • Under Sections 8 to 15 the Bill includes provisions for design compliance and building (construction) compliance declarations, which is entirely consistent with our Warren Centre recommendations for fire safety engineers in our draft “Roles Report”.
  • We strongly support the requirements through the Bill for strengthened registration provisions for design practitioners which of course must include fire safety engineers consistent with the Shergold/Weir report.
  • Our work on fire safety design documentation and record keeping are entirely consistent with the proposed requirements of your Sections 15 and 17, including the recording of design variations during construction and their building compliance declarations to ensure that the completed building satisfies the BCA Governing Principles and the applicable BCA Performance Requirements. (Clause 21)
  • Sections 33 states that the classes of practitioners to be registered will be in the Regulations and not in the Act. However, we would very much hope that fire safety engineers are included in those classes as FSEs are critical to public safety as shown in our research, and registration should be mandatory to practice.
  • Practitioners and design/construction firms may have trouble with Clause 27 which extends a duty of care to the first building owner and all subsequent owners in perpetuity for the life of the building. The indefinite nature of the duration of the duty should be reviewed in the context of the design of professional indemnity insurance for claims that may be made many decades after the design. This clause should be reviewed in the context of advice from consulting engineers and their insurers. It may need amendment.
Learn more about The Warren Centre’s Fire Safety Engineering Project

While recent experience with the Opal Building, Mascot Towers and other buildings interstate has featured residential buildings recently, examples of poor quality and safety in construction are not restricted to just the class of residential building.

Generally, in New South Wales, any person with or without formal education as an engineer and with or without experience as an engineer can call themselves an engineer and undertake unregulated design work on office buildings, factories and major pieces of public infrastructure. Civil public works like roads, bridges, rail, dams, and public water should be designed by competent engineers.

Although Australia has free trade agreements with its major trading partners of the USA and China, the State of NSW does not protect its own citizens from unregulated incoming design by potentially unqualified engineers. By contrast, Australian engineers are regulated in the USA and China to protect members of the public and to assure competent design. High hazard industrial hardware design (chemical, power, aerospace) by a non-industry consultant engineer selling services should be appropriately controlled by the state.

While this Bill is a reasonable first step that addresses the current residential property mischief as observed in NSW and VIC, it does not go far enough to address broader weaknesses in the NSW regulation of highly technical design and construction.

We would therefore be very disappointed if this Bill and any associated Regulations were limited to the design and construction of residential buildings only. We know that concerns with inadequate fire safety provisions, construction quality, a lack of proper commissioning of fire safety, poor record keeping, and lack of documentation of completed buildings as well as issues of combustible facades are widespread across a broad range of buildings in NSW and in others states and territories.

Again, we applaud the NSW Government for this proposed Bill and welcome many aspects of it which are consistent with our research findings and recommendations at the Warren Centre. We would like to see the application of these provisions to all building types in the best interests of the building industry and the citizens of NSW.

 

Ashley Brinson

Executive Director, The Warren Centre

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