By D.S (Vollie) Brink Pr.Eng. MSAICE, MPMISA

Before 1977 there were no common national building regulations in this country. Every city and town with a municipality had its own chief building inspector with building inspectors and their own home-grown regulations. This is a topic that has become important, as by-laws are being ‘used’ as if they are compulsory regulations and for this reason, I am devoting the previous as well as this Dear Mr Plumber to it.

In many cases the design of a project is referred to a rational design committee where you are confronted with a group of people who all have different opinions and don’t agree among themselves. There is no such requirement in the National Building Regulations (NBR).

In some cases, even an ordinary deem-to-satisfy-rule design is referred to such a group for scrutiny and even then, there is no consensus. Many developers feel they are ‘punished’ for developing in some towns. This is certainly not conducive to promoting development and is far from the original principle to have common, standard, regulations throughout the country.

Why are we moving back to the old undemocratic system which did not work?

Vollie Brink Bio

In my opinion much of the original documentation which was extremely valuable has been changed and is now creating a situation where people are bullied to “do as I say, or I won’t issue a certificate of approval”. The legal situation is that the owner is the legal responsible person who must appoint a professional, competent person if he or she is not competent in terms of the NBR.

Yet the owner appoints such a competent person in terms of the NBR, but then this person is overruled by an official of a department, who rather instructs the engineer what to do – otherwise he/she won’t accept the design. The problem is, if the instruction by this official fails, who is thereafter responsible for the claims and costs considering the instruction was based on their ‘local by-laws’?

The engineer cannot take responsibility for an instruction of the official and his/ her Professional Indemnity insurance will not cover the costs of claims. The issue is, ‘what is the legal status of the local by-laws to instruct a Pr. Eng. or registered architect on how to solve a problem’?

For instance, the present situation whereby municipalities fail to provide water to developments is causing serious complications where the developer of new developments is ‘forced’ by reference to local by-laws to provide sufficient quantities of water storage facilities. People with existing properties do not have to provide these water facilities: it is only applicable to new developments and refurbishments in existing towns.

Are we really going back to the past where every municipality made their own rules and regulations whereby we are working under orders of an official? It seems that so many people still do not understand the institutional hierarchy of the NBR Act, which is so easy to understand, and which are as follows:

  • The NBR Act.
  • NBR Regulations: there are only a limited number of Regulations for each part of the NBR. These regulations are compulsory and the only part that is compulsory. These regulations are in the Annexures.
  • Deem-to-satisfy-rules: these rules are not compulsory, unless the owner decides to follow the deem-to-satisfy-rules through the designer.
  • SABS standards: these standards are not compulsory unless it has also been promulgated as regulation such as SANS10400-XA. However, these standards are compulsory for the ‘deem-to-satisfy-rule’ design method.

The spirit of NBR was – and still must be – to promote cost effective housing and buildings for all and to promote such developments for economic development. New buildings and new businesses are the basis of economic development and job creation. The building regulations must support this and not stifle development.

However, there are designs put before the building control officials which do not comply to the basic principles of health and safety, economy and sound engineering and which are not done by persons who are competent or professionally registered in terms of the engineering codes and the NBR Act.

Unfortunately, the correct definition of ‘competent person was never addressed since the last major change ‘to the NBR and it seems that it was deliberately ignored. The present definition is ‘not competent’ and is consequently abused by persons who are not competent whereby they present themselves as competent.

Some BCOs allow persons with absolutely no qualifications and no professional registration to sign for designs and even rational designs and even to sign and submit Form 2 and on completion Form 4.

If this is deliberately allowed is it not a contravention of the NBR Act?

The outstanding correct definition of a competent person in terms of a fire engineer and even the other parts of the NBR has become critically important and need urgent attention. The issue of water supply and storage for fire protection has become a serious issue and needs urgent attention. It needs participation of the municipal water engineers and talks at a high level, such as the Department of Water Affairs.

We have to solve these issues in a non-confrontational manner to the benefit of all bodies involved and for the best of the country and its people.