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Unions consider national guideline on non-compliant wood products

A STATE branch of Australia’s most powerful workers’ union will pressure Government to crack down on structurally unsafe building materials after adopting guidelines from industry on non-compliant wood products.
An executives’ conference of the Queensland branch of the Australian Workers Union – the AWU’s highest policy-decision body – has acted on advice from the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia.
Assistant branch secretary Ben Swan said the AWU for some time had been concerned about the safety of its members who could be working with sub-standard imported products such as formply.
“There is indeed a national concern about non-compliant wood products entering the country and we intend to put our position before a meeting of the AWU national executive in Sydney in about four weeks,” Ben said.
“Queensland now has an official policy on a campaign against these products and we are developing a strategy on both an industrial and a regulatory level.
“We will work closely with the EWPAA on technical matters.
“We would see the development of the pilot strategy in Queensland as demonstrating a path for other branches to follow and the eventual setting up of national guidelines.”
EWPAA general manager Simon Dorries welcomed the AWU’s stand against imported non-compliant wood products which follows his presentation to the union’s construction delegates’ conference in Brisbane last December.
Simon said ‘non-effective policing’ was one of the biggest problems for the engineered wood products industry.
“There is nothing proactive about the system,” he said. “The Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Australian Building Code require the use of specific plywoods for specific applications, but there is no policing of the Australian Standard.
“Essentially, you need to wait for something to fall apart or someone to be injured before you can issue proceedings against anyone. The only real course of action is to go through the Trade Practices Act, after the event.”
He stressed that industry and union concerns centred on the use of non-compliant and misrepresented products; they had no issue with imported products that were sound and compliant to Australian standards.
AWU industrial officer Bob Overall said the issue of non-compliant building products, including formply, was on the agenda for a construction industry tripartite (Government, industry, union) meeting in Brisbane.
“This meeting represents the construction industry at large and its committee is aligned to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
“The committee includes representatives of CFMEU and the AWU Queensland agenda item intends to alert the committee’s building inspectors to the problem of structurally unsafe materials – shooing the possum, so to speak.”
In the most recent test of LVL scaffold planks imported from Asia, 10 samples failed standards for bonding strength.
The planks, manufactured from unidentified softwood veneers, were tested to the bond quality requirements of AS/NZS 4357.0 – Structural LVL – specifications and to strength requirements of AS 1577-1993 – Scaffold Planks.
Bond testing was performed at the EWPAA’s national testing laboratory in Brisbane and the strength tests were undertaken at the DPI’s NATA certified engineering laboratory at Salisbury.
Each plank was clearly branded along both edges in highly legible print as compliant to AS 1577; WLL 210kg; max span 1.8 m.
Bond quality results were extremely poor with all the planks failing bond quality requirements of AS/NZS 4357.0.
Of particular concern was the large number of individual gluelines with 0% wood fibre.
“These individual gluelines are highly likely to delaminate with little moisture exposure and pose a risk of structural failure,” according to the EWPAA’s consulting timber engineer.
“These planks, due to their extremely poor bond durability, are not suitable for outdoor use or where exposure to moisture is a possibility.”
The engineer concluded that while strength requirements of AS 1577 in the unused and dry condition had been met, the extremely poor bond quality results would make the product potentially unsafe in outdoor, weather exposed or moist or damp applications.
“In wet or damp applications, this product posses a potential safety risk,” he said.