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A halfway solution for NSW?

The NSW government has taken the next step on the road to professional registration of engineers and other building practitioners – but the draft bill has already raised concerns.

The draft of the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 aims to deliver on the reforms committed to by the government response to the Building Confidence (Shergold Weir) report. This includes “the implementation of a robust registration scheme that applies to all types of practitioners who perform the function of preparing building plans and making compliance declarations.”

But Engineers Australia says the draft legislation does not deliver on the government’s commitments and does not do enough to enhance community safety and consumer protection.

The main bone of contention is that the scheme will initially only apply to certain types of buildings.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation has confirmed that the scheme will first apply to multi-residential buildings and will then be rolled out to other building classes.

“Consistent with the intent of the Shergold Weir report, the NSW government will first focus on residential high-rise buildings, which is where there have been significant failures in building standards in recent years,” the spokesperson says. “The development of this new scheme is expected to be a large body of work, involving the registration of thousands of practitioners who have never previously been registered.

“To avoid delays to the implementation of the scheme, which is important for the protection of home owners, it will first apply on to those practitioners working on multi-unit residential buildings. The Bill as drafted provides scope to expand the scheme to other classes of buildings and professionals in the future as needed.”

Engineers Australia has raised concerns about this approach.

“Engineers Australia does not agree with this two-stage approach that risks an incomplete reform process,” says National Manager, Public Affairs, Jonathan Russell. “Certainly in the near term, the risk is that problems that are driven out of the apartments sector will only be transferred to other structures.

“If the bill in its current form passes parliament, we know that the government will only require a select few engineers who work on construction of residential buildings to be registered.

“The reality is that under the new regime, a person who has no experience as an engineer and no education as an engineer can call themselves an engineer and carry out unregulated engineering work on office buildings, factory buildings and major pieces of public infrastructure, including freeways, railways and bridges, and not have to be registered.

“This is not an acceptable outcome for the people of NSW.”

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) has echoed the call for a comprehensive licensing scheme for all engineers across all building classes. It is also seeking that the list of “building elements” in the bill explicitly include HVAC&R systems.

“HVAC&R systems often contain flammable and/or toxic working fluids or operate under high pressures, and pose a serious safety risk if not designed, installed and maintained by suitably qualified engineers and technicians,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“Many working fluids also pose a risk to the environment because of their ozone depletion potential and their significant contribution to global warming. Furthermore, HVAC&R systems are responsible for a substantial proportion of energy use in buildings and maximum demand on the energy grid.

“It is vital that these systems are designed, installed and maintained to minimise not only direct refrigerant emissions, but also the indirect emissions associated with the consumption of energy generated through combustion of fossil fuels in line with the government’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.”

The draft bill is open for public comment until 5pm on October 16.

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