Understanding Building Codes and Standards

Sometimes when we refer to codes and standards it can be a little confusing for the lay person to understand the hierarchy of what’s involved.  Below we have broken out the hierarchy and relationship between the codes and standards to provide some insight into the regulatory framework in Queensland.

Building Act 1975

The Building Act 1975 is Queensland’s building legislation and is the Act to regulate building development approvals, building work, building classification, building certifiers and pool safety inspectors, and to provide for particular matters about swimming pool safety and sustainable buildings, and for other purposes.

National Construction Code (NCC) Building Code of Australia and Australian Standards

All building work must comply with the requirements of the National Construction Code (NCC) Series, which includes the Building Code
of Australia (BCA) (Volumes 1 and 2) and the Plumbing Code of Australia (Volume 3).

The National Construction Code (NCC) is a series published by the Australian Building Codes Board.

The NCC incorporates all on-site building and plumbing requirements into a single code, setting out the minimum requirements for the design, construction and performance of buildings throughout Australia.

The NCC provides the minimum necessary requirements for safety, health, amenity and sustainability in the design and construction of new buildings (and new building work in existing buildings) throughout Australia.

Volume One primarily applies to Class 2 to 9 buildings which are commercial, industrial and multi-residential buildings.

Volume Two primarily applies to Class 1 and 10 buildings which are houses, sheds and carports.

Volume Three applies to plumbing and drainage for all classes of buildings.

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA) are given legal status in Queensland by reference in the Building Act 1975 and the Plumbing and Drainage Regulation.

Changes and amendments happen every three years, with the next round in 2019.

Queensland Development Code

In Queensland we also refer to the Queensland Development Code, which contains Queensland variations to the NCC.

Australian Standards

Standards are voluntary documents that set out specifications, procedures and guidelines that aim to ensure products, services, and systems are safe, consistent, and reliable.  Generally speaking Australian Standards (AS) relate to exact things, mathematical equations, like the thickness of glass, the slip resistance of tiles, etc.  Standards generally contain equations and standards that items have to meet. Mostly, they are used by manufacturers, and most people would only deal with a few Australian Standards relevant to their industry.

To ensure standards keep pace with new technologies, they are regularly reviewed by Standards Australia technical committees.

There are three categories of standards:

  1. International Standards
    • These are developed by ISO, IEC, and ITU for countries to adopt for national use. Standards Australia embraces the development and adoption of international standards.
  2. Regional Standards
    • These are prepared by a specific region, such as the joint Australian/New Zealand standards or the European Union’s EN standards.
  3. National Standards
    • These are developed either by a national standards body (like Standards Australia) or other accredited bodies. Any standards developed under the Australian Standard® name have been created in Australia or are adoptions of international or other standards.

On their own, standards are voluntary. There is no requirement for the public to comply with standards. However, State and Commonwealth governments often refer to Australian Standards® (AS) or joint Australian/New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS) in their legislation.

When this happens, these standards can become mandatory. In addition, Australian Standards® are sometimes incorporated into legal documents, and considered as a ‘benchmark of acceptability’.

Local Government Requirements

By the authority of state legislation, local governments in all jurisdictions are required to prepare a range of statutory planning documents that are legally binding. At the local level, these include planning schemes, by-laws, codes and regulations within which the operational rules and criteria for development are set out. There is considerable variation in the format and content of these instruments within and between jurisdictions and the level of authority and autonomy given to local government to regulate. Regulations exist to control and manage the use and development of private land and are an integral part of the development process.

The Australian Local Government Association states that local government does not set building regulations, it administers them in accordance with the Building Code and planning and building by-laws.

Where applications do not conform with the building regulations they are generally rejected in the first instance.

Codes of Practice

A code of practice provides practical guidance for people who have work health and safety duties. These codes give guidance on:

  • how to achieve the standards required under the Act
  • effective ways to identify and manage risks.

A code of practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code.

In most cases, following an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the the Act, in relation to the subject matter of the code.

Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and do not cover all hazards or risks which may arise.

Example of the Codes of Practice in Queensland are:

  • How to safely remove asbestos Code of Practice 2011
  • Scaffolding Code of Practice 2009

For a full list refer to Codes of Practice on the Worksafe website.

QBCC Standards and Tolerances

The Standards & Tolerances Guide has been compiled in response to community and industry concerns that identified a need to collate general building standards and tolerances into one, easy to read document. The tolerances and standards identified in this publication have not been created by the authors but have been sourced and collated from existing legislative provisions, the National Construction Code, Australian Standards, manufacturers installation requirements and other recognised industry standards in Queensland (e.g. Timber Queensland Technical Data Sheets).

The standards and tolerances identified in the Guide are only applicable to “building work” as defined in the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991 (QBCC Act) and Queensland Building and Construction Commission Regulation 2003. Accordingly, tolerances and standards have not been included for constructions such as earthworks, electrical work, carpet, vinyl or floating floors that are excluded from the definition of “building work” provided in the above mentioned legislation.

The standards and tolerances documented in the Guide are intended to be consistent with and complement other relevant Acts, regulations, BCA requirements, Australian Standards and manufacturer’s installation requirements. Where there is any difference or contradiction between the Guide and an Act, regulation, the BCA, Australian Standards, manufacturer’s installation requirements; all of these take precedence over the Guide.

Manufacturer’s Guidelines

Manufacturer’s guidelines and installation instructions are provided by the manufacturer to ensure the product being used/installed is done so in a manner that ensures it will live up to warrantable life.