Technical panel needed for no‑nonsense guidance

By Vollie Brink

People often contact me, asking for technical advice. I have come to realise that many plumbers, architects, quantity surveyors, contractors, project managers, building control officers, plan approvers, building inspectors, engineers or even developers and facility managers may have a need for a technical panel to provide advice or interpret a regulation, deem-to-satisfy (DTS) rule or any other technical issue.

The National Building Regulations (NBR) make provision for a Review Board when a dispute arises or when parties have differences of interpretation or opinion, but this is both costly and time consuming for the parties involved. In some cases, it creates animosity and can damage relationships between the role players. Naturally, this is not conducive to good working relationships and co-operation.

My view is that we all serve the building industry and the owners or future owners of buildings, and that we should be able to ‘agree to disagree’, yet continue having good relationships.

The NBR Act is being revised and I have proposed that we have a panel of technical experts or specialists made available to offer advice and interpretation.

I believe this could prevent the number of unnecessary cases being referred to the Review Board, because in many instances the owner decides to comply with the authority so that the project construction can continue.

I have also found that where ill‑equipped people are employed to do work (and in many cases it is engineering work), an early answer to a query would help them to follow the correct procedures and appoint a competent person to do the work instead.

Some developers and others insist architects take responsibility for engineering work. The result is a bad design with serious consequences. Yet, with the correct advice, this scenario could have been avoided. This could also prevent the case from going to the Review Board.

In some instances, the same case is repeatedly referred to the Review Board. A technical panel could again have prevented this.

When the first National Building Regulations were published in 1977, many people had difficulty in understanding the written regulations and rules of certain sections, particularly Part P. I produced sketches of each item, which enabled users to interpret its essence correctly. To this effect, I have proposed that we illustrate all the written parts of the new, revised regulations and rules, where possible.

I believe such a Technical Advice Panel should consist of specialists from all sectors of the built environment, so that experts in the construction industry can deal with technical issues on construction and design professionals can address design issues.

I have found that design issues are often referred to people who are not even qualified artisans to make a decision on design issues. Naturally, these decisions or verdicts are usually subjective and incorrect.

People from this proposed panel of experts could also be used as “expert witnesses” in court cases, as opposed to the current practice of allowing laypersons to testify.

Such a panel/centre can assist the Building Control Office (BCO) to evaluate any design with which they are uncomfortable. The panel can also evaluate rational designs and perform design reviews for complicated cases. The owner or the BCO could still escalate the matter to higher levels such as the Review Board or even to a court for litigation if dissatisfied with the panel’s outcome.

The cost of the advice provided by the Technical Panel could be borne by the person or the body seeking the advice and could be a fixed rate.

Judging by the questions that are directed to me, I have identified a serious lack of competence and experience. Incompetent people are doing work that is well beyond their competency level. This is a serious contravention and should be dealt with at a high level.

When we eventually have water regulations, the problem of competence will be aggravated, which is why I recommend that we embark on a programme of training and education so that the local authorities will be competent when that day comes.

The issue of competency brings me to another issue: the educational requirements for the various officials in the office of the BCO. The BCO should have a professional tertiary qualification and needs a certain number of years’ experience. However, the NBR doesn’t specify what the qualifications of the other officers need to be. Readers are welcome to correct me if I am wrong.

Finally, I appeal that the person who applies the DTS rule must be competent, because as it stands, there is no competency required to apply a DTS design. How can this be? Let me know whether you agree.

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