Faulty construction products and materials are a serious problem in Australia which is putting families and lives at risk as well as putting legitimate and compliant product suppliers at an unfair disadvantage, a senior government minister says.

Convening a national meeting with construction sector leaders to address what he says was an influx of non-conforming building products flooding the market, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry Bob Baldwin said such materials are a serious problem within the sector.

“These faulty products are not meeting Australian standards and causing significant risk of fire or failing the most basic of stress tests,” Baldwin said, adding that families building or renovating homes should be able to have confidence that products used were safe and up to the task and that he had called the meeting to "develop an action strategy to stop these unsafe practices from occurring."

Around Australia, the issue of non-conforming products used in residential construction caught public attention in August when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recalled around 40,000 electric cables supplied by Infinity Cable Co Pty Ltd after testing found that poor quality insulation coating meant the cables would degrade prematurely and that the insulation could break and expose live conductors if the cables were disturbed, resulting in possible electric shock or fires.

That was not only incident. In 2012, Grocon was forced to replace around half of the glass used on its 150 Collins Street Building after vision panes to the glass were found to exhibit blue streaks in polarised light conditions.

Indeed, in a survey of 222 building industry suppliers conducted earlier this year, the Australian Industry Group found that 92 per cent of respondents indicated the presence of non-conforming products in their sector, with steel, electrical and glass products being particularly affected.

Some industry groups are taking action. The Australian Windows Association, for example, operates a ‘dob-in-a-site’ scheme which enables individuals to report any instances where they believe a builder has installed non-compliant windows or doors on a confidential basis. The AWA forwards any complaints to authorities where the builder concerned is unable to prove compliance.

At a broader level, the Australian Procurement and Construction Council in September launched a procurement guide to help designers and builders to understand Australian regulatory and product requirements when placing products on the market or specifying or installing these products.

Housing Industry Association building spokesperson Kristin Brookfield welcomed the initiative of the meeting, saying a lack of coordination and oversight amongst regulatory authorities was contributing to the problem and adding that consumers should never be left in a position of having to decide for themselves whether individual products are adequate and safe. That task, she said, should rest with manufacturers, suppliers and importers.

Brookfield said it was time for all levels of government to work with industry in addressing the problems.

“This is an increasing problem for the whole building industry, and no one wants to see a significant or catastrophic failure occur,” she said. “It’s time that all levels of government worked together to seriously address the issue.”

  • While the above is definitely true, this needs to be managed appropriately. There are plenty of quality technically advanced products not used in Australia because of the current methods at managing compliance with Australian standards. CSIRO testing laboratories need to be funded sufficiently to be able to provide the compliance tests, particularly for fire testing of products. We need to generate greater competition, innovation and quality within all products used in Australia.

    • I own and operate a business in the structural steel sector of the construction industry and we regularly see Chinese fabricated steel that fails even the most basic test of compliance with our Australian standards and regulations. I cannot believe the extent of poor quality workmanship and substandard materials that ignorant and reckless builders and others import into Australia that jeopardises the safety of our building structures – it is illegal and negligent! There will be a catastrophic event where a building or other structure will collapse resulting in loss of life due to substandard, non compliant structural steel failure within Australia. This is totally avoidable and unnecessary if we reject non compliant products.

  • Big problem and often us certifiers at the final end of the process throwing up the road blocks to alot of unhappy builders/clients.

    Surprises me how easily an import product can get onto our market without being picked up as being sub-standard. But it obviously happens and happens alot.

    Scary stuff.

  • Thanks Andrew and please follow up!

    The EU requires that all products on European market be certified to a level relative to the risk, e.g. plasterboard manufacturer may be self certifying, yet an elevator requires third party certification.

    This insures quality standards, traceability and statutory provisions are met with the aim of end user protection within a cost effective, readily achievable and acceptable compliance scaffold. Turn over any quality product and find the CE logo. (try your mobile phone)

    We see ourselves as Laissez-faire anti authoritarian yet we're imprisoned by asbestos ridden, faulty materials and we've become price enslaved to foreign producers that strip us of our capacity, our right to produce and compete.

  • Whilst admirable that attention is being directed toward non NCC compliant products, it should be noted that non compliant SYSTEMS are also a massive problem for the building industry. For example, ALL external cladding products can only meet the Performance Requirements of the NCC by being presented as a cladding "System" to the Relevant Buiding Surveyor (RBS).
    This may be in the form of providing documentary evidence of meeting an Australian Standard for installation for Deemed to Satisfy systems or provision of a Certificate of Conformity (System not Product) from CodeMark or BRANZ for non Dts cladding systems or Alternative Systems. Global experience teaches us that non-compliant cladding systems means leaky external building envelope

  • We need regulation of all building products here in Australian. Even engineers that can certify new products deemed fit for use are over looking key aspects of product performance with regard to design life.

  • Beware of cheap imported LED lamps – a very popular and growing sector of the lighting market – some of the LED drivers (transformers/power supplies) do not have the RCM mark for Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC)and electrical safety – this is required for the australian market. Some will have the CE mark but this does not meet all the same requirements of the RCM mark – for example the European definition of SELV (Safety or Separated Extra Low Voltage) is not the same (max 110V) as the Australian definition (max 60V). Some will have no markings at all.
    There are a host of markings supply voltage range, ambient temperature, maximum load Wattage etc that are required in Australia but that do not appear on all imported products

  • This will continue to be a problem while the mentality of always buying cheapest persists.

    Lowest price DOES NOT mean best value, it never has and it never will.

    There is a great (and very true and apt) quote from Benjamin Franklin " The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten"

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