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We need to be clearer about how we should approve products that have been accredited in jurisdictions overseas, such as the United States and the EU, and the extent to which further testing is required in New Zealand

Is CodeMark really up to scratch? — By Andrew Bayly

The crisis around CodeMark is building, and is set to have a huge impact on the construction industry.

The big issue is the tension between allowing appropriate products into New Zealand from overseas and how we go through the process of validating those products.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are other products coming into the country which are not appropriate for use in New Zealand. For example, we have seen substandard electrical cabling used in multiple Auckland apartments, and structural steel, plumbing ware and shower glass that doesn’t meet safety requirements.

I’m also aware of people bringing in products and listing them directly for sale on Trade Me, such as fire extinguishers which may meet international codes, but which don’t meet New Zealand standards.

We need to be clearer about how we should approve products that have been accredited in jurisdictions overseas, such as the United States and the EU, and the extent to which further testing is required in New Zealand. One of the big differences between New Zealand’s climatic conditions and those overseas is UV light.

Another matter is how a product can and should be used as part of a building solution, such as a cladding system. Better understanding of how different products work together is needed since they may impact on the performance of the system.

Special emphasis on testing

In order to address these issues, there is a need to prioritise and put special emphasis on the testing of those products that could impair the performance and structural integrity of the building (such as cladding and roofing), and relax the requirements for products that are less critical.

In this context, I welcome the government’s decision to suspend the six CodeMark certificates issued in respect of aluminium composite cladding (ACP) similar to that found in the horrific Grenfell Tower fire – even if it’s a decision that should have been made quite some time ago.

The Grenfell Tower fire in London killed 72 people after the aluminium cladding on the high-rise building combusted. I visited the site late last year and was deeply affected by the extent of the devastation.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) received a report about ACP cladding by Australian fire engineer Dr Tony Enright in November last year. Unhappy with Dr Enright’s findings, MBIE then asked for a peer review. It transpires that peer review was completed in April this year. Nothing has been done until now.

Questions over integrity

The suspension is a good move and also acknowledges the work of others to bring the whole issue to the attention of the government. However, it continues to raise questions over the integrity of the CodeMark system which is the highest standard of certification of new products able to be used in New Zealand.

In particular, it also raises issues around Brisbane-based CertMark which not only issued this particular set of ACP certifications, but also prepares about 50% of all new product certifications in the New Zealand market.

Recent news reports said a review by Deloitte for MBIE had found significant issues with the CodeMark scheme. A key focus of the review was the ‘level of competency’ of the bodies issuing the certificates and how MBIE and the scheme’s manager, JAS-ANZ, were ‘assessing and monitoring that competency’ and ‘in particular, whether JAS-ANZ has sufficient technical expertise in the New Zealand Building Code and building environment to undertake the assessment and monitoring of competency,’ the review said.

I have also heard directly from councils, as the building consent authorities, that another issue with certain CodeMark certificates is that they lack clarity around how individual products can and should be used alongside other products.

Lack of information

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) reviewed the CodeMark system and moved to a new system in August last year. One of the changes made under the new Australian system is that the CodeMark certificate provides much more information for users of the product, system or methods, rather than just referring to installation manuals, which still occurs when some New Zealand CodeMark certificates are issued.

As a result, in New Zealand the CodeMark certificates are generally one page whereas under the Australian scheme, they are generally five pages.

I have been pressing Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa for months for answers over the issues with CodeMark and substandard building products, especially ACP.

Questions need to be asked, not only about why the minister has taken so long to deal with the particular issue around ACP, but also why she isn’t dealing with the whole issue of the certification of products much more rapidly.

And the issue is now even more critical, given that MBIE acting building system assurance manager, Paul Hobbs, has said councils can no longer rely on the ACP CodeMark certificate as a deemed-to-comply route.

Badly broken

On a more general note, Auckland Council says there will be occasions where it will not rely solely on a CodeMark certificate as evidence of Building Code compliance. Its building consents general manager, Ian McCormick, says that in some cases, the council could require applicants who have CodeMark certified products to provide additional evidence to prove the product’s design meets the relevant performance requirements of the Building Code.

Property Council head of advocacy Matt Paterson has said the ACP suspensions show how badly broken the CodeMark scheme is.

So it’s imperative that the minister addresses the integrity of the scheme. I will continue to ask the question and to hold the government to account to ensure that it learns from overseas experience and keeps New Zealanders safe.

The minister needs to get on top of her portfolio and take action immediately because people and property are at risk.

Andrew Bayly is the MP for Hunua and the National Party spokesperson for building and construction
andrew.bayly@parliament.govt.nz


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