Bodgy Building Products Can Kill 13

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
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It is illegal for any supplier to provide a product in trade or commerce which is non-compliant – so why is this happening?

The recent media frenzy about a fire in an apartment building has cast the spotlight not only on the inferior insulation cladding used, but it would seem it also exposed the fact that this very same inferior and very dangerous product is widely known and used in the industry.

Unfortunately for Australian home owners, the reality is that not only will nothing happen to those responsible throughout the supply chain regarding this substandard product in this matter. This product (albeit under a different brand name) will still find its way into the Australian building industry because it is cheap – very, very cheap.

Have a look at products and work methods that have killed, maimed and injured Australians over the last 20 years, and then find one single individual who was held criminally responsible for them. Sadly, your search will prove fruitless, because no single person has ever been held responsible.

Remember the pink batts affair? Four young people (workers) were killed installing a product where the installation risks were well known and where workers had previously been electrocuted, yet Kevin Rudd and his cohort endured a brief examination before the formal enquiry into the matter, and nothing more.

Why is it left to the media to name and shame the developers or the builders, as they appear to be doing with Mr Schwartz? Does The Australian (which seems to be leading the pack) believe that by naming, people will have a change of mind and conscience and admit to installing substandard materials? Does the media think that by naming and shaming people will now purposefully avoid doing business with certain individuals? What rubbish! Buildings should not be built with substandard products, period.

Where is Worksafe or the equivalent regulator? The new model occupational safety legislation in all states and territories with the exception of  Victoria and Western Australia clearly allows for criminal prosecutions with fairly onerous goal-time attached, yet no single person has ever been convicted under this legislation.

To my mind, the real issue and major contributing factor to this dangerous state of play is: why did Customs even allow substandard material into the country? Surely this is where Australia has the opportunity to actually stop this vile trade of life threatening products: at point of entry. If a building product has an Australian Standard of quality manufacture attached to it, and an imported product does not have the Standards Australia approval on it, then it does not gain entry, period!

Maybe we need Minister Scott Morrison back in his old portfolio to stop the boats filled with substandard, life-threatening building products. Maybe a few tow backs to port of origin, or simply forbidding any discharge of cargo onto our wharves without the proper quality assurance, would do the trick.

I was going to suggest impounding the products as a deterrent, but then remembered how common it is for such issues to disappear by stealth as soon as the media spotlight is off them, so I’ll keep this suggestion out of the solution.

Maybe the media should start a concerted and unified effort to stop the boats filled with substandard building products and save lives.

As always, risk safely.

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  1. Sam

    Can we please stop referring to the "pink batts" affair as though they were what caused the four deaths? Think you'll find if you check the coroner's reports that it was aluminium foil insulation, NOT pink batts that caused the electrocutions and you may even find that most pink batts are actually made right here in good old Oz!

    • JohD

      We want 'bodgy' building materials banned, not 'bodgy' reporting. Most people would not even understand what the 'pink batts' affair was all about, let alone journalist. Besides, people were charged for the installation installation deaths – dodgy employers putting inexperienced youngsters to work installing foil insulation one their first day at work without any safety training whatsoever. The real culprit went unpunished – professional electricians installing wiring over the truss bottom cord instead of between and below them, as per regulation. All these 'bodgy' work practices were homegrown.

  2. Grant Spork

    ISO International Standards compliance should ensure imported products are compliant. The question for many products is how they achieve ISO accreditation? This is one area where the chain is very weak. Are products claimed to be ISO compliant though in fact, have not been tested? Australia imports all televisions and almost all consumer electrical products, which require ISO accreditation as to safety and fitness for use. We would not expect trade barriers to be erected to place a wall in front of all importers when one electrical appliance is found to be faulty or dangerous. The issue does not only concern building products from China as Thailand, Turkey, India the UAE and Saudie Arabia have invested in state of the art building products fabrication and assembly. All of these suppliers have much cheaper costs of labour. As with sourcing timber from sustainable and ecologically sound sources, the fault is with the regime which oversees ISO accreditation. We can not expect to export our products and services with low barriers, and then erect them in Australia to benifit a small number of manufacturers and suppliers. Our testing regime should be upgraded.

  3. James

    Add to this, the list of dodgy LED lighting and suppliers into this country and you will find a greater issue is lying dormant. I’m sorry it all comes down to regulation AND self regulation DOES NOT WORK!

  4. Chris Sargeant

    Thought it was a requirement to get all the facts before pronouncing judgement on individuals… Fingering Mr Schwartz as the culprit responsible for installing the crap cladding demonstrates an incredible ignorance of the construction process or highlights that someone has an axe to grind … either way we should listen to what our mothers say and "if we aint got nothing nice to say…."

    In the meantime methinks LU Simon and the Building Surveyor are heading for stormy waters….

  5. Cam

    I think some of the finger pointing is misguided. Consider this, many building products are suitable for use in particular situations, but not in others. So, it’s not as simple as a point of sales the product conforms ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The context of how items are installed is important. So how would you stop these items at the boarder???
    Should Customs main role now be to act as building product certifiers, rather than focusing on drugs and other serious contraband? And whose tax dollars are going to pay for that?
    I think it comes down to builder and certifiers asking themselves what a product is being used for and is it meets the existing regulations. So, perhaps education and enforcement is the real issue.

  6. Phil Morey

    A lot of foreign made building material is tested in Australia because our standards are often slightly different to the rest of the world. Unfortunately there is a tendency to supply superior product for testing to get compliance and then supply a lower grade for the market. This is true for Australian made products as well. The only main difficulty is in installation. While there may be detailed technical specifications for installation of product to ensure fire safety, acoustic insulation or structural integrity there are almost no checks during construction to ensure these specs are followed. This is where compliance companies drop the ball. They never watch the full build, rely almost exclusively on documentary evidence that may be inappropriate and never check to see what is behind the paint. But it's cheap so that's alright then. There is no way that Customs is going to check building products . There is not the time or money for that and they don't have the expertise to compare an aluminium panel from China against NCC requirements. That's the duty of the head contractor who should be held responsible

  7. Sandy McPherson

    Everyone is seemingly obsessed with Product Compliance but what about Compliancy of the System that must be wrapped around Compliancy of the Product when it comes to external cladding systems. The NCC is unequivocal in this regard.
    Did anyone check that at Lacrosse Apartments?
    It's not just fire you have to worry about, what about water ingress associated with poor systems and detailing of junctions – leaky buildings are by far the biggest cost over the life of a structure relative to the cost of fire.

  8. Anne Paten

    The crucial point exposed in the Victorian building industry’s non-compliant products' debacle is the unknown. Just how many people will be injured or killed because of a ‘no touch regulator’ in charge of the Victorian building industry for 22 years?
    We do however, have many ‘knowns’. We have known that the industry has been unregulated since 1993 and effectively lawless. We have known since the Auditor-General’s Report of 2000 that the Building Commission as ‘regulator’ failed to do any ‘regulating’ from its inception in 1993. We have known for more than two decades that a lack of any enforcement of building laws and regulations, together with no punishment of recalcitrant practitioners, spawned an industry of cowboys, their misconduct enabled and encouraged by the Building Commission/VBA supposed to ‘control’ them. And we have known of the increasing numbers joining the cowboy ranks every year, their misconduct endorsed by the Commission/VBA.
    Equally, over this period we have known the catastrophic consequences for consumers; enormous financial loss, ongoing pain and suffering, the horrific loss of lives. And as Merv says, no individual has ever been held criminally responsible!

  9. Graeme Doreian

    Sam, I gave testimony on the stand, under oath, and referenced 13 times in the 2014 Royal Commission Home Insulation Program Report
    Has anyone read the 2013 Queensland Coronial Inquest transcripts and viewed all the documents and photos. I have.
    I can prove that one of the electrical industry representatives, and the Coroner have committed perjury by withholding evidence resulting in the truth not being exposed.
    I make it simple, if the electricians followed the Wiring Rules, and didn't install unprotected wiring/cables over the ceiling joists, there would have been no wires or cables to staple into in the roof space. Would there?
    I approached the media, I have given with my associate evidence of fraud for over four years on thermal insulation issues, with the last two years specialising in revealing the truth regarding the blatant disregard of the electrical industry, the Electrical Safety Offices, the bureaucrats, and politicians, who don't care
    Read May 19, 2014 Malcolm Richards, Master Electricians Association on the stand under, oath oral evidence. YOU WILL FIND THE REAL TRUTH.
    Basically, Governments, industry and the Electrical Safety Offices are providing an environment i

  10. Bea Lasalle

    It's easy to emotively sloganeer on the NCP issue – the reality is that the issue far more nuanced and complex.
    First, take the Lacrosse apartment building fire reported widely in the media. The aluminum cladding that the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) reported to have acted as an accelerant was non-compliant with Australian fire safety and combustibility standards. But was/is the cladding 'compliant' for other uses in building but in a situation where it likely to add to fire risk? The point is that there will be products that will be straight out non-compliant, whereas others will or won't be compliant depending on their use.
    Second, as noted in the MFB's report, both the building contract and the plans SPECIFIED the use of the particular cladding. There were multiple parties involved in the Lacrosse development in addition to the developer – the architects, the Project Management firm, the product suppliers, the builders, contractors etc.
    Third, it's often products are related, as with the cladding example the plastic core is used in other similar cladding products.

  11. Bea Lasalle

    Fourth, while the property industry is dealing with parties heading off to China and other countries to source cheaper versions of products, the Australian Government is also signing Free Trade Agreements that benefit the Australian economy and which free trade inflows and outflows. So we can expect more imported cost effective items.
    Fifth, Australian business has for many years bemoaned the red tape which surrounds importing products from overseas – are we suggesting we reapply red tape?
    Nevertheless, the issue is clearly important, but one which is complex to solve as illustrated by recent reports of imported Chinese plasterboard containing asbestos – in China using asbestos in this way is not illegal.

  12. Peter

    Another by product of the farce that is self regulation. If someone signs a construction certificate is it accepted at face value. Dodgy brothers rule while quality contractors are unable to get a foot in the door.