13 Apr 2016

Third-party building material testing could become compulsory

2:22 pm on 13 April 2016

The government is looking at mandatory third-party testing of key building products after steel mesh failed to meet standards for ductility, or how much it can stretch, in an earthquake.

Christchurch construction.

Christchurch construction (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has ordered the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to look beyond mesh to other products deemed to be critical to a building's safety.

Steel & Tube seismic mesh, and steel mesh from Eurocorp, recently failed ductility tests and were withdrawn from sale. Inquiries into steel mesh standards came after an RNZ News investigation.

Read more on this story

  • More steel mesh tests under way - ComCom
  • Steel mesh found to fail strength tests
  • Steel mesh hold could hit building costs
  • Buildings checked for failed steel mesh
  • Questions over quake mesh certification
  • Auckland Council general manager for building control Ian McCormick said the council regularly came across imported building products with compliance issues.

    "We've got products that are coming into the country which ... have got endorsements on them which we are actually struggling to be able to trace and confirm are actually accurate."

    Mr McCormick said inspectors have found toughened glass with incorrect safety endorsements and untraceable license numbers.

    In the past month revelations of Steel & Tube misusing a lab's logo on its test certificates have snowballed into the listed company's seismic mesh failing tests and being withdrawn.

    Two Commerce Commission investigations are underway, and MBIE has started checking multi-storey buildings.

    Dr Smith told RNZ News last night that for now, engineers must realise there is a question mark with some mesh products so they must check closely to ensure they met the New Zealand standard.

    Questions about the mesh were the catalyst for the report on all critical building materials.

    "The government is looking and asking the ministry to see whether, given the issues that have developed with Steel & Tube over these mesh products, whether there should be a mandatory requirement in the standards to ensure that there is independent testing certification to ensure that they are up to grade."

    It was clear the industry was struggling to deliver mesh that was ductile, or flexible, enough in an earthquake and that was why third-party testing was proposed, he said. Any changes would also apply to imports.

    "The government wants to see every possible lesson learnt from the Christchurch earthquakes including ensuring that slabs for foundations are more resistant to future earthquakes," he said.

    Dr Smith said he was happy with the performance of his ministry.

    "Given the number of building products that there are, many thousands, given new innovations, new factories opening up, I'm satisfied the ministry has properly investigated this issue when it's come up."

    A file photo shows a construction worker selecting steel mesh for concrete reinforcement

    Construction worker selecting steel mesh for concrete reinforcement (file photo) Photo: Cultura Creative

    Building Industry Federation chief executive Bruce Kohn said the industry wanted good strong regime of product assurance.

    "We've been advising the officials for about some 18 months or so that we see concerns out there and we'd like some action taken," he told Morning Report.

  • More steel mesh tests under way - ComCom
  • Steel mesh found to fail strength tests
  • Steel mesh hold could hit building costs
  • Buildings checked for failed steel mesh
  • Questions over quake mesh certification