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Is It Time For A New Zealand Building Product Register?

In the light of the Grenfell disaster, New Zealand needs a national product register for building products.

The rapid increase in imported products into the New Zealand in recent years, combined with growing concerns around aluminium composite panels following the Grenfell disaster and rumours about imported weatherboards there is a need to have one product register listing all building products.

With the CodeMark product certification scheme in disarray following 3 companies leaving, there needs to be a more robust way to demonstrate that an importer, supplier or manufacturer warrants that a building product meets the requirements of the New Zealand Building Code. When Building consent authorities (BCAs) such as city councils no longer choose to accept a CodeMark product certificate as evidence of compliance with the Building Code then it is surely time that a product register was created.

A National Product Catalogue already exists in New Zealand which helps validate, store, maintain and share product data in a single location. It is used by more than 500 organisations across New Zealand and holds over 250,000 product records. Therefore, we already have a basis for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the building industry to establish a national product register.

While Building Industry Federation (BIF) believes that the reform measures proposed by MBIE to ensure compliant products and materials will strengthen the current Building system we are disappointed that the proposals do not include the provision for a register for products which are required to have third party testing until there is satisfaction that risk of noncompliance is minimal.

As far back as March 2016, media reported New Zealand was a “dumping ground” for dodgy building products. The report estimated that 50 percent of new houses in New Zealand could have plumbing products in them that would fail Australian plumbing performance standards.

On 25 May 2016 the NZ Herald reported that of 134,000 inspections carried out by Auckland Council over a 12-month period one third failed. Since that time, we have a case of counterfeit imported Aerated Concrete panels being the subject of punitive action by the Court system; we have had in 2017-18 non-compliant electrical wiring installed in schools and apartment blocks in Auckland. BIF has been made aware of examples of non-compliant electrical tools being sold throughout the country. Reports of sub-quality steel imports and plumbing materials regularly appeared in 2018.

A BRANZ report has stated that product may be non-conforming because the wrong product is installed to meet the needs of an application. Accompanying documentation may be inaccurate of misapplied (fraudulent documentation), or a product and accompanying documentation may have been created with an intention to deceive (counterfeit). It has been estimated as far back as 2011 that China is the primary source of counterfeit construction goods comprising part of a global counterfeit product market with a value of US$1 trillion annually.

BRANZ in looking at the NCP issue used two methodologies. One was based on media and other reports of product failure in New Zealand. It omits non-detected NCPs and is focussed primarily on residential construction. Costs of repair or replacement were estimated at some $92 million annually, using published construction cost information.

The second methodology took in residential and commercial construction and was based on a survey of Australian suppliers and manufacturers. The results transposed to New Zealand on the basis that nothing is significantly different to the market in Australia was made on a 30 percent ratio of NCP to compliant products and the cost to New Zealand was estimated at $232 million a year. Loss of sales by New Zealand manufacturers was estimated at about $116 million and labour costs for installing product, demolition and disposal at about 50 percent of the total. There is, however, additional costs which come to bear. These include redesign costs, extra council fees, loss of reputation and disruption to business.

While MBIE officials have consistently claimed that there is insufficient “evidence” to justify measures other than those proposed to protect New Zealand consumers, the building Industry believes much more significance should be attached to its concerns.

New Zealand industry practitioners are, like their Australian counterparts, unwilling to “dob in” to officials examples they encounter because of a reluctance to implicate individuals and tend to put NCP incidents down to being “an occupational hazard”. However, the presence of widespread industry concern over the problem should, in our view, be of concern to consumers and deserving of stronger measures from authorities to address it.

All manufacturers and importers having an obligation to declare the compliance of their products which would be listed in a products register will enhance confidence of everyone including designers, builders and ultimately consumers in their acceptance of risk/liabilities.

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