Recent concerns around the compliance of some concrete reinforcing steel mesh products and other critical building materials entering this country has seen the New Zealand Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA) call for third party verification of all safety critical building work, regardless of the sector or type of building materials involved.
HERA Director, Dr Wolfgang Scholz says the initiative came about after HERA was one of the ‘first ports of call’ for comment from the media when news broke of compliance issues around concrete reinforcing steel mesh.
“Given this mesh is largely used in concrete construction it is not essentially a HERA interest. However with reinforcing steel also used in steel-concrete composite construction such as composite flooring systems, we recognised we needed to take a stronger stance in advocating the compliance of reinforcing steels in all applications. But more importantly it is about the demonstrated compliance of all safety critical products and not just steel used in reinforced concrete.”
This led to consultation across the steel construction sector with HERA asking its members to endorse or reject a draft policy statement along calling for third party verification of all safety critical building work, regardless of sector.
“This feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with forty seven member companies supporting the draft policy document and only four against with qualifications not excluding its future endorsement if certain conditions are met. Given most of these companies would be directly involved in the proposed conformance scheme, this is a very strong endorsement.”
Dr Scholz says as a key members of the steel supply chain, HERA and Steel Construction NZ have already led the industry in establishing the Steel Fabrication Certification scheme, which now covers over 70 percent of New Zealand constructional steel work capacity. This scheme supports demonstrated conformance of products used in a project and requires full traceability of steels used in safety critical applications.
However, based on the media reports and MBIE advisories received, he supports a media-coined comment from the Association’s structural systems general manager, Dr Stephen Hicks that New Zealand is the ‘wild west’ of steel testing.
“Stephen has an extensive background with the Steel Construction Institute of UK and is well versed on the European situation. Over there all steel for critical applications must come from third-party certified suppliers, whom take a legal responsibility for the conformity of the construction product through a Declaration of Performance. This certainly lends weight to his opinion.”
With the floodgates open to ‘cheap’ steel and external pressures to reduce costs, often at the expense of quality, seeking all steel for critical applications via certified supply lines is a must, he says.
“There is nothing wrong with following the European lead here, especially given our industry is not too far behind. For Importance Level 3 and 4 steel framed structures, this would mean all steel would have to come via ACRS or other creditable certification provider certified supply chains.”
HERA has outlined a pathway for which steel and other construction sectors such as timber and concrete could develop third party product conformance schemes for safety critical building work.
“This would require industry-wide consultation in the different sectors and with MBIE to determine the critical building work that warrants formal third party verification. We envisage schemes would then run on a voluntary basis until the framework has been developed with the regulator in order to become mandatory. With MBIE’s assistance, we could improve standards and ensure a level playing field, both when it comes to imported products and across competing New Zealand construction systems.”