Dodgy deeds for unsafe products rife in building industry

The remains of Grenfell Tower in London. Picture: AFP
The remains of Grenfell Tower in London. Picture: AFP

Key certifiers used to determine whether building products are compliant say they are still being inundated by dodgy certificates for unsafe products, which are being imported into the country from overseas.

Fraudulent documentation was one of the many issues raised at the 2015 Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products, where it was heard that widespread fraud was being used to certify unsafe materials.

The news comes amid growing concern over building safety as NSW is rocked by apartment blocks with severe defects and as combustible aluminium poly­eth­e­lene, which fuelled the rapid spread of flames at London’s Grenfell inferno, has been found wrapping structures across the nation.

Five examples of fraudulent certificates, seen by The Australian, have been used to “certify” products such as scaffolding, plywood and safety glass, but insiders say other materials have fallen victim to dodgy duplicates.

It is understood the five certificates — expiring between 2016 and this year and created for products manufactured in China — were discovered only after building certifiers raised the alarm over concerns the products didn’t comply with national building codes.

Philip Sanders, the executive director of the Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing and Struc­tural Steel (ACRS), said semi-regular instances of fraud had seen the company “put a lot of effort” into altering the design of their certificates each year.

He said the issue required constant scrutiny because the problem “still hadn’t gone away” and steel suppliers consequently put a lot of effort into making sure the origin of their products were easily traceable for customers. ­

“Appropriate government regulation as well as proper certification bodies are essential in providing a chain of protection for consumers and industry,” he said.

Mr Sanders said ACRS operated its own traceability scheme and database that enabled consumers to cross-reference their certificates to deliver confidence in its steel materials supply.

John Prasad of Approval Mark said his company’s certificates had been duplicated in China — an issue he faced a couple of times a year. “The worst was a package that arrived in Australia with our licence number and watermark.

“We spoke to the retail outlet selling the product and they went backwards and forwards with the dodgy dealer, saying it breached our trademark. Luckily they understood the seriousness of the problem and removed it.”

Director of CertMark Inter­national John Thorpe said the company was made aware of dodgy certificates “every two to three months … They’re usually referred to us from someone at a building site when a certifier or surveyor will become suspicious over whether a product is conforming. They range from very poor quality to extremely good and are usually photoshopped from genuine companies.”

Brett Mace, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, said certification of overseas building products was a big issue and called on the government to implement a national register­ for all products. “AIBS members … have raised concerns (over) doubtful certification, most often related to false and misleading statements about compliance with Australian standards.”

AIBS recommends a central national product certification system­ where all technical data related to building products can be published, along with evidence it has been tested and proved to be suitable for Australian standards.

*Labor industry spokesman Brendan O’Connor said despite having been told of the widespread use of dodgy duplicates, the government had not done enough to curb it. Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews was contacted for comment.


REPORTEROlivia Caisley is a federal politics reporter based in the Canberra press gallery. She began her career at The Australian in 2015 working for the digital team before joining the Sydney bureau as a general news