03 Nov Not bad odds if you can get it
Is the Victorian Building Authority actually keeping a close eye on the audit of plumbing work to protect consumers from shoddy and potentially dangerous plumbing work?
According to the VBA’s latest annual report, more than 368,000 regulated plumbing jobs were certified by licenced plumbers in Victoria in 2015/16 and this number keeps going upwards every year.
Every regulated plumbing job which costs in excess of $750.00 (including labour and materials) must by law be accompanied by the issue of a Plumbing Compliance Certificate.
When a Licenced Plumber issues a Plumbing Compliance Certificate to certify a job, they certify that the “plumbing work complies in all respects with the plumbing laws as defined in Part 12A of the Building Act 1993.” This incorporates all of the Australian Standards and various handbooks which accompany the Standards. In Victoria, all plumbing standards are then audited and enforced by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA).
This system sounds great and very reassuring – but most plumbers don’t even own any of the Standards or handbooks because they are too expensive to buy – something which is rather concerning to say the least!
So what’s the role of the VBA’s Compliance & Audit Department? Over 2015/16 the VBA audited just 13,816 of the 368,043 compliance certificates issued. This is an audit rate of 3.75% compared to the pathetic 2.2% in the prior year – a 170% increase. But is this process actually working to reduce plumbing defects??
Most plumbing consumers would have no idea that the VBA has in recent years also substantially reduced the rate at which plumbers work is audited from the previously accepted good practice figure of 5% random audits on every plumber (20:1 odds) to only a dismal 2.5% (40:1 odds) – and those 2.5% are also now specifically risk targeted at mostly aged care facilities, schools, child care centres and so on – leaving domestic homes at the bottom of the list.
At 3.75% over 2015/16 the VBA was above its stated target but still way below the 5% random audits which good practice had for years suggested was appropriate.
Due to the risk targeting being practiced, the chance of your typical Licenced Plumber being audited, such as the person who does plumbing work on your new house or comes to install your central heating system or airconditioner, is now extremely low.
So you’d be lucky (and your plumber potentially unlucky!) if any of the plumbing at your property was actually audited by an officer of the VBA.
When an audit actually happens, the Licenced Plumber meets the VBA Auditor on site to review the works which have come up for audit. However, the trouble is that plumbing is a bit like an ice-berg – by the time the audit is done most of the work can’t be easily seen as it’s already buried beneath or within the structure of the building. VBA Auditors are also on a tight KPI structure themselves whereby they have only limited time available to spend on site (usually just 30 minutes!). They also have serious OH&S requirements to consider which may mean that they cannot safely access roof areas which cannot be seen clearly from the ground or within the building itself. The VBA website itself confirms that only a “sample” of the plumber’s work is considered during the auditing process.
If the Government regulator ever turns up at your house you should expect a comprehensive check to be done, not a random audit on small, easy elements of the plumbing installation to suit the auditor – but that is what is happening.
The long and the short of this is that we are constantly finding non-compliance of regulated plumbing works is absolutely rife across Victoria – including on the rare buildings which actually have been audited by the VBA. Sometimes we can only imagine that the VBA Auditors must be wearing a big pair of blinkers as they quickly tiptoe past the numerous layers of obviously non-compliant plumbing on their way to the designated ‘sample’ of plumbing work which they do inspect at one of these few and far between audits!
With the odds of a typical plumber having his or her work called up for audit now being probably less than 100:1 from the previous 20:1, it’s understandable that work standards and compliance will continue to deteriorate if plumbers know this and realize they can take shortcuts at your house. It’s a bit like knowing they can drive at 200kph down the Hume because there’s nobody or nothing there to stop them.
Metropolis Solutions Pty Ltd and its team of professionals can inspect the plumbing work at your property and determine whether it is compliant and if not, provide real solutions to resolve those problems. Plumbing work which is hard to access or buried within the structure of the building is not a problem for us – we use state of the art technology including CCTV, NearMap aerial imaging, Infrared cameras and temporary high level rope OH&S access equipment to allow us to examine the problem areas wherever they may be. We take the time required to fully investigate and the level of detail in our reports is second to none.
And yes we certainly own the relevant Australian Standards and handbooks and it’s our business to know them inside out!