VBA Mail – March 2019

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CEO’s overview

The first few months of 2019 have seen many challenges present across the building and plumbing industries during a time where building activity remains at near-record levels.

The national and international spotlight has been firmly fixed on the industry since Christmas. Structural damage issues in Sydney’s Opal Tower were followed by events much closer to home, with a cladding fire on an apartment building in Spencer Street, Melbourne. These incidents highlight the importance of the building regulatory system in protecting life and safety.

As the Victorian building and plumbing regulator we take our responsibilities seriously. You will see from some of the activity showcased in this edition, the important steps we are taking to drive industry behaviour – whether it be through providing information, increasing monitoring and oversight of work, or using enforcement tools where appropriate. And our Statewide Cladding Audit work continues, with Notices and Orders being issued across the state to rectify buildings.

In February, the VBA, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors and the Victorian Municipal Building Surveyors Group, hosted building surveyors at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for a one-day conference exploring issues affecting the sector. I am delighted to say that the response to the conference was overwhelmingly positive. A working group has been established to drive quality improvement and tackle workforce barriers going forward.

At the end of February, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal handed down its decision on the proceedings brought by the owners of the Lacrosse building. Vice President Judge Woodward found the Lacrosse building did not comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) (as then applicable in 2011) because of the use of aluminium composite panels on the external walls of the building.

The VBA is supporting research by the Warren Centre at the University of Sydney on the regulation, competence, education and accreditation of fire safety engineers. The research aims to improve overall design practice and help lift the performance of the fire safety engineering profession.

Over the past year, monitoring of building sites has increased. By the middle of 2019 you can expect the VBA to be turning up to 10 per cent of sites under construction. Site inspection criteria underpinning these inspections continues to evolve. Enhancements made this year have already proven beneficial for detecting and resolving higher-risk matters and addressing potential trends in non-compliance as they emerge.

In other news, applications are now being accepted for the position of State Building Surveyor – an authoritative industry leader who will play a key role in improving the sector’s reputation and increasing community confidence in the state’s building practices and compliance.

The VBA is well and truly active on social media. We regularly post industry news and content on our Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn channels, and invite you all to follow us on these platforms. We have also started posting a weekly summary of VBA actions on our website, which includes information on prosecutions, inspections, audits and show cause notices.

Neither the VBA nor the industry can be complacent. The community is looking to each and every one of us to proceed with great care, performing work in a professional, compliant and competent manner.

Sue Eddy
Chief Executive Officer
Victorian Building Authority

VBA Building Surveyors’ Conference 2019

2019 VBA Building Surveyors' Conference.

The VBA was delighted to welcome more than 400 private and municipal building surveyors, inspectors and representatives from local government to its inaugural Building Surveyors’ Conference on Tuesday, 26 February.

With a theme of Working together to deliver safe and compliant buildings for all Victorians, the conference sought to identify and address issues affecting the state’s building industry and surveyors in general, before exploring different perspectives on regulation and the role of industry participants, including the VBA.

The Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, opened and welcomed the participants, and Sue Eddy, CEO of the VBA, delivered a keynote presentation focusing on the future direction of building industry regulation in Victoria.

Other keynote speakers included:

  • Ms Bronwyn Weir, co-author of the 2018 Building Confidence report
  • Professor Graeme Samuel, businessman and scholar
  • Mr Brett Mace, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors
  • Mr John Prendergast, President of the Victorian Municipal Building Surveyors Group
  • Mr John Merritt, Special Adviser on Combustible Cladding to the Minister for Planning
  • Dr Trevor Pisciotta, Executive Director, Building, DELWP

A montage of photos from the 2019 VBA Building Surveyors' Conference.

Licensing and Registration update

The VBA’s Licensing and Registration team plays an integral role in supporting the industry by ensuring that appropriately skilled people of good character are provided with a licence or registration.

Recent feedback, however, has told the VBA the process is frustrating, with confusing requirements, unclear processes and unacceptably long processing times.

Currently applications need to be lodged in hard copy, are often missing information and need to be returned, or put on hold until further information is provided. This causes further delays and frustration.

The VBA concedes communication has been poor. Practitioners feel the need to contact the VBA to ask for updates on the progress of their applications. This wastes their time and only adds to the frustration.

As a result of this feedback, the VBA is changing the system. New timeline targets to process 75 per cent of applications within 45 days have been implemented. Improvements have already started, but the VBA still has a way to go to meet expectations.

Over the next three to six months, the following processes will be implemented:

  • From April 2019, customers will receive status updates by email and/or SMS, as their application progresses through the assessment process.
  • Applications can be completed and submitted online, with the payment and police check steps incorporated into the electronic application.
  • A new online form for company registration will be released, following a pilot program that commenced in February. The new form pre-populates key information for ease of completion (e.g. if you enter an ABN, then the company name, address and list of directors will automatically appear). Payment amounts are also calculated, based on the application type, with payment required prior to submission.
  • All forms will be available to complete online by July 2019. In the interim, a review of hard copy forms is under way, with a focus on streamlining the information required.
  • Police Checks are also moving online, with proof of identification completed as part of the application process to save time and minimise delays often encountered during this step. Applications cannot proceed until a police check is completed. Please prioritise the police check to help the VBA process your application as quickly as possible.
  • Work is under way to develop a set of standardised evidence requirements for domestic builder registration applications. Once finalised in April, these requirements will streamline and simplify the application process, with the number of documents required for submission decreasing from 34 to eight. The VBA has also developed eight fact sheets relating to specific aspects of experience, to explain why evidence is required. These improvements will be integrated into the online Domestic Builder Registration Application Form.

Proactive inspections increase across Victoria

The Victorian Building Authority is increasing proactive inspections across the state. Over the past 12 months, our inspectors have travelled far and wide, visiting building sites across Melbourne and regional Victoria for random inspections and audits.

In 2018, the VBA inspected around 6500 building sites and, by July this year, will be inspecting around ten per cent of buildings under construction every month.

The map below shows the extent of our proactive inspections program during 2018. We have also partnered with other state regulators to host Build Aware – a week-long program of site visits, education and industry engagement targeting selected towns and regions across Victoria.

Map of Victoria showing locations of VBA inspections in 2018.

Victorian Statewide Cladding Audit update

The Victorian Building Authority is now the Municipal Building Surveyor for 327 higher-risk buildings identified through the Victorian Statewide Cladding Audit.

Meetings with the owners and owners corporation managers of 44 of these buildings took place prior to Christmas to discuss fire safety issues caused by combustible cladding, and to start developing a plan for long-term rectification.

This week, the VBA became the municipal building surveyor for 283 additional buildings. We have already written to all owners and owners corporation managers of these buildings to begin the rectification process.

A significant amount of work to reduce the risk of buildings with combustible cladding has been undertaken. The VBA would like to publicly acknowledge the MFB, CFA and municipal building surveyors for their contribution to this important public safety project.

Buildings across the state continue to be inspected and assessed every week – with council building departments providing valuable local knowledge of potentially at-risk buildings.

Maps showing the number of privately-owned buildings identified with cladding in each Victorian municipality are now available on the VBA website.

A step-by-step guide for apartment and building owners on assessing and fixing cladding is available on our website.

VBA begins product identification testing

The VBA has started product identification testing as part of the Victorian Statewide Cladding Audit.

Expanded polystyrene and aluminium composite panels can be difficult to identify visually, so product identification tests are being used to help confirm the presence of these types of combustible cladding.

For more information, read our product identification testing factsheet.

Specifying and installing structural steel

Practitioners, particularly structural engineers, building designers and builders, need to be vigilant when specifying and installing structural steel, including on-site fabricated steel, to ensure the appropriate steel is specified, and that the steel as specified and approved on a building permit is that which is delivered on site and installed.

The same applies where steel structures are prefabricated off site. This includes ensuring that all fasteners and welding meet the engineer’s design specifications.

To avoid using steel with unknown properties, consideration should be given to using steel certified by a third-party certification scheme, such as that of the Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Structural Steels (ACRS). Information on their schemes can be found at steelcertification.com.

New requirements for issuing building permits from 1 July 2019

From 1 July 2019, building surveyors can only issue building permits after they have applied to the VBA for a building permit number. The VBA will only issue a building permit number once all required information has been provided and the building permit levy has been paid.

To assist with the new process, the VBA will be launching an online Building Activity Management System (BAMS), through which building surveyors will submit building permit number applications to the VBA.

Industry engagement into the design of BAMS commenced in January this year, with initial conversations taking place with a group of municipal and private surveyors. This group is representative of surveyors in the industry and will be used as a reference group throughout the project cycle for showcases, design feedback, user testing and collaboration.

For more information on BAMS, visit vba.vic.gov.au/bams.

New Compliance and Enforcement Policy

The VBA’s new Compliance and Enforcement Policy takes into account new powers granted to the authority through the Building Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Act 2017 and the Building Amendment (Registration of Building Trades and Other Matters) Act 2018.

Among its new powers, the VBA is now allowed to immediately suspend practitioners on public interest grounds and can destructively test building products.

The new policy takes a risk-based approach to compliance and enforcement, which is driven by intelligence gathering and the use of data.

Take due care when relying on Certificates of Conformity

The recent withdrawal of nine Certificates of Conformity issued under the CodeMark Scheme has again highlighted the need for practitioners to take due care when accepting Certificates as evidence of suitability.

While practitioners are entitled to accept or rely on a Certificate of Conformity as evidence of suitability (as described in Clause A2.2 of Volume One or Clause 1.2.2 of Volume Two of the National Construction Code), each Certificate should be scrutinised to ascertain its current validity.

Read more on our website.

VBA requests information from CertMark International over cladding certificate withdrawals

The sudden withdrawal of nine Certificates of Conformity by CertMark International (CMI) in mid-February caused disruption to the building and construction industry.

Since being notified of CMI’s decision, the VBA has written to the certification body, urgently asking it to:

  • explain why the certificates were withdrawn
  • supply details of the proposed new conditions on the certificates to be reissued
  • present evidence to support its claims that the panels were not subject to Minister’s Guideline MG-14; and
  • provide confirmation that it has sought assurances that product suppliers are no longer using the CodeMark certificates as evidence of suitability.

Given the level of disruption caused, the VBA has developed guidance material to help the Victorian building and construction industry better manage this issue.

VBA continues search to appoint a State Building Surveyor

An extensive process is under way for the newly established role of State Building Surveyor.

Reporting directly to the VBA’s Chief Executive Officer, the State Building Surveyor will provide authoritative advice on compliance to the building industry. This advice will cover all technical elements of compliance, guidance and interpretation of the Building Code of Australia and relevant standards.

Applicants must be registered and qualified as a Building Surveyor (Unlimited) in Victoria, and must possess extensive technical knowledge of building and construction.

The VBA has engaged experienced business management consultants SHK to manage the recruitment of this position. Potential applicants should contact Evan Willen on (03) 8620 8039 during business hours or email evan.willen@shk.com.au to submit an expression of interest.

To find out more about this role, you can download the position description.

More from around the VBA

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