Asbestos still being used in Australia – The dangers of importing building products

Asbestos still being used in Australia – The dangers of importing building products

A recent paper released by the Master Builders Association has highlighted a worrying trend in the non-conformity of building products imported from China. Some recently imported building products have been found to contain asbestos, which poses further need for regulation on importing before another wave of asbestos-related disease and death.
What has been found?
Concerns have been raised by the Master Builders with imported steel and glass products as well as electrical cables. Many other building products have also been found to contain asbestos, such as plasterboard.

Who is responsible?
Unfortunately there is no single system in place which identifies products as being ‘safe’ and ‘fit for purpose’.

Australian border and protection services have said that they are proactive in trying to curb asbestos entering our country, with penalties of up to $170,000 for individuals, $850,000 for companies or three times the value of the goods (whichever is the greater) in place should prosecution be made against importers. However, the Abbott government has conceded that it is unable to guarantee Chinese imports are free of asbestos.

As these faulty supplies are made public to consumers, suppliers are not checking for compliance of items and builders are not seeking the ‘certificate of conformity’ or ‘product certification’ prior to installation of these items.

Therefore, it is apparent that many parties should take a portion of responsibility for allowing these products to be installed, and that the current system needs changing to ensure consumer safety.

What is being done?
Master Builders Queensland recently hosted an industry roundtable to discuss practical and workable solutions to the ongoing problem of non-conforming products. The parliamentary secretary to the federal minister for industry and science the Hon Karen Andrews MP was present, who has the portfolio for non-conforming products in the Abbott government.

The current proposal from the Master Builders is as follows:

  • All products used in regulated building work are assessed against Australian Standards (or equivalent) to a level determined by their risk profile. Hopefully this critical requirement can be undertaken by customs or the like, ensuring that any non-conforming items are kept from being distributed prior to their acquisition by suppliers.
  • All products found to meet the standard are marked in a clear and concise way. There are currently marks available on certain products (such as the watermark used for plumbing products), although unfortunately regulatory supervision is often patchy.
  • The product assessments can be verified and are audited.
  • The system is monitored and enforced by a single government agency. The new model occupational safety legislation in all states and territories with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia clearly allows for criminal prosecutions, although no-one is yet to be prosecuted. With government agency monitoring, if suppliers / builders or the like installed non-conforming products knowing that compliance marking was not obtained, I would expect criminal prosecutions were both more likely and deserved.
  • The system is funded by manufacturer’s by way of an industry-wide levy. This may not be favourable to suppliers and further investigation may be required, although our initial thoughts are that if the levy could be offset by reduced insurance premiums as an added layer of protection has been added by government, then this may be viewed as a positive measure.
  • Product recall insurance is required for all manufacturer’s/retailers of high risk products operating in the Australian market.
  • Retailers would be required to keep a register of all high risk products sold. This would reduce the risk of consumer’s ‘slipping through the cracks’ and providing greater protection. We believe that the additional labour required by suppliers for ensuring this quality assurance could be part-funded by government, as savings will be made due to the advertising of product recalls no longer required.
  • Section A2.1 of the National Construction Code should be amended to provide greater certainty regarding compliance options.

All the above points have their merits and we hope will be considered. What is apparent is that there is a need for change given that these products have been allowed into our country in the first place, and that priority should be given to this issue to prevent more non-conforming products installed in our buildings.

How do I know if a non-conforming product is used in my home?
Sadly it is not always apparent that a product is faulty and may take time before recalls are issued, as apparent with the recent recall of infinity electrical cabling that could cause house fires and electrocution to occupants within their homes.

It is important that your inspector is able to identify known recalled products and if any concerns arise, make the appropriate recommendations such as lab testing. Cap-It-All building inspections are accredited in asbestos identification and we familiarise ourselves with recalled products to give ourselves the best chance of identifying faulty or potentially dangerous products whilst conducting your inspections.

For further information on asbestos click here, or to view further information on building inspections Perth

Author: Lewis Flatt of Cap-It-All Building Inspections – Servicing the Perth Metro Area

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