Faked goods risk lives

Julieanne Strachan, Stephanie Anderson March 25, 2012

THOUSANDS of non-compliant, falsely branded building products are flooding into Australia every week, with industry officials deeply concerned about dangerous products that could ''chop you to bits''.

Poor policing of the imports has been roundly blamed for the problem, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has said it was not its job to enforce standards that applied to building products.

About 1000 windows are being pulled out of buildings around the country after failing to meet the grade, the executive director of the Australian Window Association, Tracey Gramlick, said. ''In the last few years it's been very bad,'' she said.

''There's almost non-existent policing of compliance and I don't have a magic pill on how to address this but it's something this country needs to do. I hate to think of the quality of building stock in this country.''

In a statement the ACCC said it has no direct role in enforcing the Australian Standards that apply to building products.

''The ACCC enforces the Australian Consumer Law, which applies to the supply of goods and services generally and prohibits suppliers from making false representations or misleading or deceptive statements,'' it stated.

''The ACCC will consider any concerns raised about possible false statements such as test reports or compliance reports.''

Weak plywood, well below the indicated strength had become ''far too common'' the Engineered Wood Products Association general manager Simon Dorries said.

''A lot of the products from China are very cheap and if you are able to increase your profit by buying a $2 stamp [saying goods were certified] then that can be very tempting,'' he said. ''The problem is if you have something that looks identical to the real product and it can be mistaken - the other way is when something is blatantly misrepresented - that happens too often.''

The Housing Industry Association ACT executive director Neil Evans said it was creating headaches on job sites.

''One of the major difficulties is that the builder has no way of assessing the properties of the product compared to the marked grade,'' he said.

In 2011 the wood association tested numerous samples of imported decorative plywood for wall lining and particle board used in flat-pack kitchen cabinets and found emissions of formaldehyde were two to four times higher than Australian limits.

Mr Evans said the gaps in the system would be examined at the HIA Building Better Cities Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday. He said using substandard materials was fraught with danger.

''It [weak glass] could shatter and chop you to bits,'' he said.

''If you take something to do with electrical systems and products, if they're not compliant that could lead to death.''

Mr Evans said there was limited danger from products that were dramatically under-compliant, as the majority of their faults were visibly evident and would be noticed before use. He said the real concern lay with products that were slightly below standard and whose non-compliance could not be picked up by the naked eye.

''It's very hard to test steel and timber and glass after it's been manufactured,'' he said. ''It's very costly. They're all relying on the paper trail that is given to them by the supplier, which has been given to the supplier by the manufacturer.

''There have been claims and certificates provided to say materials meet requirements, but they may not.''

But the solution was not as easy as just avoiding imported products.

'There are a lot of good imported products but there are a lot of bad ones,'' he said.

''We've also got products being manufactured in this country that don't comply with some of the standards.''

Ms Gramlick agreed, saying: ''not everything bad comes from China and not everything good comes from Australia'.

''But with the imported products there is a higher percentage of it.''