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RE: CNN Reports Low Quality Steel Imported From China

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Christopher Wright said:

Might be a good idea to start requiring your service center to start issuing

certs when he sells you structural steel.

<end quote>

Problem is engineers generally don't buy the steel. Here we have fair
trading laws which make it an offence to misrepresent anything, and can only
really be enforced on the importer not the overseas supplier.

But it is small builders, owner/builders and fabricator manufacturers that
are the problem. They don't really understand specifications, and rely on
good faith of suppliers: and on small projects engineers just supply designs
and have no supervisory role or authority of any kind on the project.

A would be shed manufacturer will get some "standard" calculations from a
consulting engineer, then go build as many sheds as they want based on those
calculations, and buy the cheapest steel they can get. Since wind loading is
the critical load case, and typically about twice that of constructional
loading: few failures occur. The builders think everything is fine, and if
wind does destroy a building, it will be considered a freak wind event by
the bureau of met. and insurance will probably payout.

If the building is a workspace, and someone gets injured then the department
of OHS&W may investigate and find breach of the building code and prosecute.
This occurred with failure of nail plated timber roof trusses: the building
owner was prosecuted first by OHS&W for failure to provide a "safe"
workplace. Legal suits for failure to get development approval for changes
and civil suits I believe are still in process. Residential however is not
generally considered a workspace, so OHS&W doesn't apply except during
construction: and half strength steel likely to survive construction.
(Actually our OHS&W act and regulations could force the most current version
of the building code of Australia (BCA) to be applied to a workspace: not
the one current at time of construction and used for development approval.)

Large structures do tend to reach design loads during construction and there
have been some failures attributed to faulty bolts. But unless there is
OHS&W involvement prosecutions are rare, even under the fair trading act.

The small builders may start out with garden sheds, but then move into
medium and larger commercial and industrial sheds for factories and
warehouses. Since there are few if any failures reported, the market appears
happy: until the structures fail at less than the design wind load.

But all the systems in place are about paper shuffling. There are no real
enforcement systems to police manufacturers and their product. No checks
that a steel fabricator employs qualified welders, no checks that steel is
to specification at any point in the supply chain. Anyone can set up a
business and anyone can import.

The systems only deal with the design, and the injuries and deaths: not the
quality of products and processes.

It is not just limited to quality of steel. The whole of building industry
is relatively low quality: too many one-man subcontractors. Many of them
prefer to extend duration of job, rather than work more efficiently, and cut
costs of materials.

There is no point having laws unless have systems to enforce, or appropriate
penalties to enforce. Penalties for breach of OHS&W laws and Development
laws seem to be considered as operating costs: break the law and pay the

We need something more robust than laws and penalties. Systems which make it
near impossible to deviate from specifications, and otherwise force
compliance because being compliant is the path of least resistance.
Designing and implementing is the hard part.

A few years back, attempts were made in SA to implement ISO:9000 across the
building industry and get all subcontractors to sign off on their work: it
didn't get any where.

It is left with the main building contractor to sign a statement of
compliance: without which no certificate of occupancy is issued.

The builders however wouldn't really know: they can only go off their
belief. Further they have no real leverage to get certificates from
materials suppliers: like ready mix concrete suppliers.

Really needs something positive which brings about a cultural change of
attitude in the industry and pushes the lower quality suppliers out without
the implementation having a negative impact on existing quality suppliers.

For example instead of criticising the industry, we boost the promotion of
the quality players.  The AISC quality programme being another possible

Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
South Australia 

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