Trades group calls for better standards system following London fire

The Government is being urged to help avoid a flood of imported building and safety materials coming into the country ...

The Government is being urged to help avoid a flood of imported building and safety materials coming into the country unchecked.

More calls are being made for the Government to step up its vigilance on the quality of building products and other imports.

The Specialist Trade Contractors Federation says Standards NZ needs "urgent reform" because of the current system, which depends on private players to fund New Zealand's end of trans-Tasman standards.

When no one paid up, the standard applied only to Australia, the federation's chief executive Graham Burke said.

Graham Burke: New Zealand's import borders are "very porous".
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Graham Burke: New Zealand's import borders are "very porous".

He said quite apart from the conflict of interest that the system currently encouraged, many organisations simply did not have the money.

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"If no organisation stumps up with money to pay for the initiation fee, which could be up to $20,000, than that standard becomes an Australian only standard.

"The reality is these standards are now dominated by Australia's timetable, view and directions."

Criticisms of building standards are being fuelled by revelations that the Grenfell Tower fire in London may have been covered with aluminium cladding that did not meet the UK building code.

Flammable cladding has been blamed for high-rise fires in Dubai and Melbourne, and the New Zealand Government has asked big city councils to check whether the cladding is on multi-storey buildings here.

Burke, whose organisation includes plumbers, electricians and scaffolders, said at least six standards that he knew of had been "dropped" at the New Zealand end: one for scaffolding, another two for working at heights, and three for fire protection. 

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The fire protection standards were for hand-operated fire fighting equipment, interconnected smoke alarms and fire alarms and detection. 

He had sought meetings with Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith and Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jacqui Dean, to no avail.

The Building Industry Federation has also spoken out about the lack of systems for checking imported building products, which might not meet the standards set for local manufacturers.

BIF chief executive Bruce Kohn suggested New Zealand follow Australia in terms of tougher border protection. The real risk, he said, was "cowboys" who substituted the right product for something cheaper.

"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 building products into the Australian market."

He had heard of below-par products in a number of sectors including PVC drain pipes, claddings, electrical wiring, taps and plumbing fittings, aluminium framing and shower glass.

Burke said it was true New Zealand's import borders were "very porous" and the best defence against product substitution was using reputable companies.

Kevin van der Merwe, national sales manager at Ullrich Aluminium, said in February that local manufacturers were under "immense pressure" from a wide range of cheaper Chinese subsidised products.

These products did not have to meet the same standards and were being sold at a "fraction of the price".

 - Stuff

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