The need for more stringent requirements for peer reviews within the building certification system was identified in the Australian Government, Productivity Commission Research Report, Reform of Building Regulation published in November 2004.

Though the document is principally discussing fire safety and fire engineering principles when it considers the benefits of peer reviews, the comments could be applied to the current building legislative environment, that has resulted in the BCA access provisions, and application of the Premises Standards, being a very specialised and complex area.

Some pertinent extracts from the 2004 paper include:

The NSW BRAC stated that the introduction of a nationally uniform Peer Review Process could provide a greater degree of certainty in the approval process“, page 173

HIA suggested that alternative solutions be peer reviewed by a panel that includes representatives of the Brigades as well as other appropriate industry practitioners“, page 173

Increasing scrutiny of alternative solutions was also raised as an important part of the approvals process. The Campbell Report identified two options — a system of independent peer review or the establishment of a Government panel of experts“, page 218

the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (NSW) suggested a model of peer review, similar to that used by the Olympic Coordination Authority (OCA) for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, would provide a robust, timely and honest system of assessment. The OCA independently appointed peer reviewers for all alternative solutions and incorporated information from the reviewers as well as its own technical staff and fire authorities in making approval decisions“, page 218

The approval of alternative solutions raises particular issues with respect to the approval and inspection processes. Interested parties raised concerns that there is no set process for the preparation or assessment of alternative solutions and that, because of a lack of documentation, critical fire safety and maintenance measures
associated with alternative solutions may not be undertaken“,  page 218

Industry members from the New South Wales Building Regulations Advisory Council supported a national approach, saying: … a more rigorous national approach to the development, assessment and certification of alternative solutions needs to be introduced to prevent any abuse of this system and ensure that alternative solutions are delivering appropriate outcomes“, page 217

Third party assessments may become an increasing part of the certification process. With the growing number of issues covered by the BCA, and the rising use of alternative solutions, the role of the certifier may move towards almost a project manager role, organising and collating the assessments of a number of experts to form a view on compliance. Assessment of alternative solutions requires a significantly higher level of skill than that required for deemed-to-satisfy standards, which can essentially be assessed against a list of prescriptive requirements in a ‘tick and flick’ manner”, page 225

“The Western Australian Government Department of Housing and Works noted: Performance standards mean the designer must have a strong understanding of the principles underlying the standard, and in effect restrict design to professionally trained people … Equally, checking the validity of a design against a performance standard requires the same sort of professional knowledge as the designer needs. For a complex building it is inconceivable that a single person or a single profession is capable of checking all aspects of a building against all performance standards”, page 225

Click the link to read the Australian Government, Productivity Commission Research Report, Reform of Building Regulation

Building Certifiers in any state or territory should consider an Access Peer Review for any Alternative Solutions relating to an access provision to mitigate risk and verify the design complies with the relevant performance criteria.

Please contact Lee Wilson, Disability Access Consultant / DDA Consultant for all your Performance Solution needs. Lee is an Accredited Member of the Association of Consultants in Access, Australia Inc., and a volunteer Subject Matter Expert with the Australian Building Codes Board.