Grenfell Tower fire prompts warning about sub-par building products in NZ

A wide range of non-compliant products are believed to be in New Zealand include window, shower and balustrade glass, ...
JOHN SELKIRK/STUFF

A wide range of non-compliant products are believed to be in New Zealand include window, shower and balustrade glass, PVC piping, claddings, and electrical wiring.

Building industry players are calling for a review over non-compliant building products in the wake of London's tragic Grenfell Tower blaze.

At least 79 people are now feared dead in the Grenfell Tower apartment block fire last week, and news reports indicate the building's highly flammable cladding may not have complied with the building code. 

Building Industry Federation chief executive Bruce Kohn said that while New Zealand had moved to tighten fire safety standards a few months ago, there were still non-compliant building products of all kinds entering the country "unchecked".

The revelation that banned materials were used in the Grenfell Tower has prompted thousands of urgent inspections at ...
CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES

The revelation that banned materials were used in the Grenfell Tower has prompted thousands of urgent inspections at other towers across the UK.

Below-standard products included window, shower and balustrade glass, PVC piping for internal and external drainage, claddings, electrical wiring, taps and plumbing fittings and aluminium framing.

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The risk was that they might not meet safety standards or be fit for purpose as set out in our building code or standards, he said. 

Ullrich Aluminium national sales manager Kevin van der Merwe (front) says imports that are cheaper but not up to New ...
JARRED WILLIAMSON / FAIRFAX NZ

Ullrich Aluminium national sales manager Kevin van der Merwe (front) says imports that are cheaper but not up to New Zealand safety standards are being dumped here.

Non-conforming products were costing the country an estimated $92 million every year, in terms of enforcement and replacement on building sites, Kohn said.

"We have the New South Wales Government reconsidering the state's building safety measures with 'a sense of urgency' and the Queensland Government promising to redraft its building laws this year, specifically because of a surge of non-conforming products into the Australian market."

Kohn said good merchants and established importers were on the lookout for non-compliant products, but "entrepreneurial traders, and cowboy builders and tradesmen" were at risk of substituting specified materials with low-cost alternatives.

MORNING REPORT/RNZ

A range of construction trades are warning of widespread weaknesses in quality control standards in New Zealand buildings including those for fire safety. Phil Pennington reports.

This had been at the heart of a Melbourne apartment fire in 2014 where the wrong cladding was used.

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It was difficult for building inspectors to identify non-compliant products once in place, and Australia's move to consider some form of protection at the border was an idea worth considering, Kohn said.

Poor quality products have also struck the steel and plumbing industries, with reports of flexible braided hoses bursting and investigations being conducted by the Commerce Commission into steel mesh testing.

Kevin van der Merwe, national sales manager at Ullrich Aluminium which makes ladders, said in February that local manufacturers were struggling to compete with imported products that did not have to meet local safety standards.

He knew of at least one workplace death triggered by a defective ladder.

"Anybody ... can bring in a container load of ladders that aren't made in this market, don't have to conform and they sell them at a fraction of our price but because they're not locally made, they don't have to conform."

Local manufacturers were under "immense pressure" from a wide range of cheaper Chinese subsidised products being "dumped in the market at below our manufactured cost" but there was nothing being done about it, Van der Merwe said 

Master Plumbers chairman Craig Foley said in May that his group was lobbying the Government to start policing standards, as Australia had done.

"You get cheap PVC pipes coming in which has supposed standard stamped on them, but it's just a stamp the manufacturer put on it," Foley said.

"I had one and when I held it up to the light, I could see through it because it had air pockets in it."

Darryl O'Brien, of the Central Queensland University, is a researcher into non-conforming building products and said the number of imported products was making it increasingly hard to "ensure occupant safety".

A survey of Australian building industry players in 2013 had shown 92 per cent had non-conforming products in their market sector.

- Audio courtesy of RNZ

 - Stuff

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