Engineered woods promise to be a sustainable boom industry for Australia, but non-conforming imported materials are putting the budding industry’s reputation at risk, along with public safety.

The federal government’s inquiry into non-conforming building products was reopened at the end of last year with expanded terms of reference to investigate growing concerns regarding the importation of asbestos-containing materials.

Submissions closed on 17 January, and are now publicly available. While the focus of the extended submission period was around the scourge of asbestos, concerns over engineered wood products have also been raised by respondents.

The Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia (EWPAA) in its submission said 28 per cent of imported non-certified panel products had been found to be non-compliant, compared with just 1.5 per cent of certified products from Australia and New Zealand.

These statistics are based on 25,000 tests performed on engineered wood products over a two-year period up to August 2015.

EWPAA chief executive Dave Gover said the results were concerning, as was the lack of regulation relating to the importation and use of non-conforming building products.

“Australia has stronger legislation in place to protect trees in foreign countries being illegally logged than legislation to protect the health and safety of its citizens from wilful or reckless importation of dangerous or mislabelled building products,” Mr Gover said.

A recent example of the dangers of non-compliant product was given by the Building Products Innovation Council in its updated submission, where a builder of a private residence had imported laminated veneer lumber (LVL). The LVL had been set out for one house but construction was interrupted by rain. The non-conforming LVL, which appeared fine when dry, started to delaminate when it came into contact with water.

“Samples were taken for bond durability testing,” the submission stated. “Bond evaluation requires an average of 50 per cent fibre failure across every glue line (the higher the better). The tested sample had absolutely no fibre failure on any glue line, indicating that the adhesive was not durable, unlikely to be creep resistant and therefore unsuitable for a structural product.”

It said the EWPAA went to the site four weeks later to take samples for structural testing but due to the extent of delamination there was no sample sound enough to withstand testing. Making matters worse, the builder had disappeared, with a $90,000 rectification bill footed by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission and the project delayed by 12 months.

Non conforming engineered timbers need to be stamped out

Mr Gover is pushing for legislation to stamp out non-conforming engineered timbers.

“The EWPAA strongly recommends that legislation be enacted to protect the health and safety of Australian citizens in such a way that responsibility for compliance rests with all parties in the supply chain,” he said.

He is pushing for a scheme similar to the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012, which deters the importation of timber products derived from illegally logged forests by compelling importers and resellers to undertake due diligence regarding the legality of wood product supply.

Without strong action, the EWPAA submission says, Australian companies will be unable to compete with imported non-compliant product, due to the added costs of meeting regulatory requirements, such as strength and durability properties required to ensure safe construction and acceptable structural integrity of buildings.

There are a number of potential risks EWPAA has identified, including death and injury from the collapse of products with inadequate bending and shear strength, respiratory illness and cancers caused by excessive carcinogenic emissions from formaldehyde, and premature replacement costs.

The Senate Economics References Committee is due to report on the inquiry by 25 May 2017.

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