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A Translation of the NCC
December 13, 2019

In mid-September Jerry presented a paper at the ABCB’s Building Australia’s Future Conference. The following is an extraction that highlights some of the most important points of discussion.

It was good to talk to industry leaders at the recent Building Australia’s Future Conference and I thank the ABCB for the opportunity to air my views.

My story will focus on future proofing our industry and how Australia could lead the world in building quality and innovation.

I will target changes to the NCC and associated Standards which will prevent most mistakes or confusion. This can be done by making information easier to find, more easily understood and quicker to use. I stress PREVENTION as being the only way forward as resources become increasingly scarce and mistakes no longer affordable.

Until now, we have tolerated a system because we didn’t know any different. Now I’m saying the NCC in 2015 sits alongside the likes of Edison, Apple and Facebook in its capacity to illuminate or tell its market about its area of expertise.

I understand the ABCB wants greater use of the Performance Objectives of the NCC so we all innovate and come up with clever, effective alternative solutions. But how can we build differently to the DTS (deemed-to- satisfy) requirements if we haven’t got the basic stuff right?

Deep inside, we all know there is a problem. If you don’t, maybe you need to follow me around building sites, law courts and buildings that are up for sale. Or ask any contractor about how much they dislike fixing the mistakes made from subbies and what they spend on post-completion works. Ask their wives about the stress they bring home when something avoidable goes wrong. Or watch how quickly some new building work fails because someone overlooked $60 worth of critical turn-up or detailing around a threshold.

There is no consistent, disciplined, error-free formula for building work except what most engineers deliver. Drawings are so often wrong or incomplete. This means that the contractors and consultants cannot deliver the minimum quality needed. Or if they do, they will breach their contractual obligations.

Our legs buckle under the mountains of paper. Our passion dims from the unintentional stuff ups, complaints, disputes and endless rework or unnecessary maintenance. There is so much collective chaos around the easy ways to build, which everyone should just know.

In saying all of that, I want this article to be a profoundly positive experience.

The future can be better. Everything we need is in the ‘DNA’ contained within the NCC and the ABCBs vision to improve access to information. This 25-year-old nationwide, harmonised document is and should be the epicentre of knowledge about building. Standards Australia also plays an important part; however, to fix the current mess, it is no good hiding behind the part that is right. Nor should we let anyone distract us with claims that the problem is some conspiracy or mischief. I suspect the core issue is simply ignorance of what we can have and confusion about how to get it.

The future can be Australia delivering better quality building information to the 50 million eyeballs throughout Australia and every one of our near neighbours and international friends.

The future should be the ABCB exporting building best practice to the world.

The future is concise, accessible, notated illustrations that ‘translates’ the invisible ‘gold’ contained in the NCC/Standards into the pearls we want.

The future is easier, cheaper; better quality and trouble free buildings.

The outcomes I expected after presenting my paper at the Building Australia’s Future Conference were as follows:

1. Everyone will lobby the ABCB, associations and politicians about a solution that makes building easier and better
2. At least 50 of you will decide to help me edit, refine and FINISH the work I will show you I’m doing. My email address is published below
3. Vote with your eyes; avoid overstraining them by limiting the use of Standards unless Standards Australia commits to helping the ABCB deliver the knowledge our industry wants
4. Insist that your associations/institutes set aside silly differences and jealousies and synergise into an ANZAC like team. It should not take a war or a football game for us to work well together.

I’d like reasoning to prevail so let’s let the numbers talk. The value of annual Australian construction exceeds $200B (ACIF 2013 – 14) with residential and non-residential (Classes 1 – 10) work exceeding $100B.

What we are ignoring or unaware of is cost. In my opinion; rework, mistakes, confusion, over/under documentation, wasted time, unnecessary/excessive maintenance, early performance failure, injury, complaint and disputes, distress and mental health exceeds $5B and is probably as high as $10B per annum.

The solution is probably as little as a 50 module/300 page illustrated alternative to the 20,000 pages of the NCC, Standards Australia referenced in the NCC, normative reference Standards and texts.

Initially, I called this ‘solution’ the RULES. I now propose these be called Acceptable Construction Practices ACPs in line with the terms used in the NCC. In essence, an ACP is long speak for Best Practice.

I’m going to show you examples of how these can look. Let’s take a baby, but important first step, using the NCCs Taxonomy (Classification) of Buildings. Anyone who knows me knows I put logic, master-planning and structure before the detail. The 10 Classes of Buildings in the NCC is nice except for the omission of large, public spaces or spaces between buildings. It allows us to properly consider and classify the level of risk for different types of buildings. The NCC presents this in text form. I believe a diagram is clearer and communicates the information better. Simple, colour coded for residential (sleeping) use and now at about version 15 after 5 years.

Next is an example of an ACP (Acceptable Construction Practice) about Stairs. I published the first version three years ago in Building Connection magazine and we are now up to V18. Nearly everything we need to know about Stair compliance is in this ACP, including all those facts we so often forget or don’t bother to check. The 190mm maximum riser heights, the maximum number of risers, correct balustrade heights etc. But the real ‘pearls’ are the simplicity of the diagrams and the relevance of the notes.

There could easily be an ACP for all typical building work. Using Graphic Contents ……with click through access to Interior and then Services.

I acknowledge the work Building Connection magazine has done to bring us quality information over the past 20 years. They are a voice in the wilderness and they deliver the only consistently technically OK content that all of us need.

So how do we get there?

Candidly, I reckon few of you realise how bad the situation is. I’ve always known the NCC is not being read. I knew that everyone respected Standards but disliked using them. Most read only the one or two related to their trade/profession.

But I had no idea that many of the Standards were so poorly written, confusing and inaccessible until I spent hundreds of hours extracting relevant content from them and the NCC. Standards Australia must think I’m against them. I’m not. I just want them to be better. Specifically, give us the content we need to use when we build.

With their help, the ABCB can easily be custodians of concise information to help Australia and its friends to build properly.

So to finish, let’s summarise what is possible?

History teaches us that being proactive is a better strategy. Procrastination is judged harshly and kills or disadvantages us. The earth is not flat. Apartheid did not work. Slavery was barbaric. Discrimination against women is cruel and ugly. Delay about tobacco has condemned millions to a miserable death. Peddling alcohol, sugar and gambling to our children will be seen as a much more serious abuse.

Courage, vision and humans doing good work floats my boat. Wading through hundreds of Standards and other referenced docos to find out how to build properly doesn’t.

No one believed Britain could break the Enigma Code, or that scientists would unlock our genome sequences. Or that Apple could create products that did not need instructions to use. Or that Cochlear would help so many to hear.

The ACPs are not some quixotic folly. They are the key to translating and therefore understanding the NCC. They are our industry’s Rosetta Stone moment.

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