AWU vows to act on flood of foreign wood products

News /
18 April 2011
AWU vows to act on flood of foreign wood products

Asian wood traders using the ‘backdoor’ to filter non-compliant structurally unsafe building materials into the construction industry have awakened one of Australia’s largest blue collar unions to the threats they impose on the lives of workers.

Construction industry delegates at an Australian Workers Union forum in Brisbane vowed to “clean up the workplace of ‘foreign’ wood products that fail to meet Australian standards for safety”.

Forum delegates were enlightened on the problem of dodgy imports by the general manger of the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia Simon Dorries. Many were surprised that to learn that there is no policing of the Australian standard. Mr Dorries said ‘non-effective policing’ was one of the biggest problems for the engineered wood products industry.

“There is nothing proactive about the system,” he says. “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 for action is to go through the Trade Practices Act, after the event.” AWU assistant Queensland branch secretary Ben Swan said the union at both state and federal level would place these concerns as a priority issue. A sample of failed imported formwork was passed around the forum, and a number of delegates gave their own account of working with shoddy unlabelled material “that bloody well scared us.”

“Plywood stamped with the PAA-EWPAA grade mark is the best guarantee of a safe and dependable product, “ Mr Dorries told the forum. “This guarantees the plywood type, the stress grade, the veneer grade (front and back) and the glue bond type.” As an example, structural plywood with the Standard AS/NZS2269 requires a Type ‘A’ bond, with a stress rating of between F8-F27 and an agreed veneer quality of both front and back, appropriate to the application.

Mr Dorries said there were two distinct ways in which imported plywood could fail to meet the Australian Standard. The first, and most obvious, was by blatantly misleading the buyer with false claims or counterfeit stamps, or offering no official stamps at all.

“We independently tested some Asian structural plywood claiming to have Type ‘A’ bond in its composition,” Mr Dorries said. “But we found it to be something closer to non-structural Type ‘D’ with added dye colouring to make it look like a durable structural Type ‘A’ phenol formaldehyde.” Ben Swan added: “We’ll get stuck into this sub-standard material. It’s coming in at prices well below the local certified product, which costs jobs, our jobs. But, worse, it threatens the lives of our members.”

AWU organiser Garry Crompton says he will distribute EWPAA technical information, including data on Australian standards and the JAS/ANZ accredited product certification scheme, through highest levels of the AWU organisation.

The AWU, which traces its origins to unions founded in the pastoral and mining industries in the 1880s, has more than 135,000 members Australia-wide.

Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia

The Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia provides accreditation for plywood, LVL, particleboard, MDF and solid timber.

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