False claims, fire testing reports a frequent focus of specialist unit

13 January 2020

Manufacturers and product suppliers who make exaggerated and false safety claims about their products have been the main focus of a specialist unit within Queensland’s building regulator.

The Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC)’s non-conforming building product (NCBP) unit has investigated more than 300 complaints since laws were established in November 2017.

Non-compliant timber cladding, insulation, cyclone-resistant sheds and unsafe pool fencing are some of the most dangerous products the team has investigated.

Other products which made it under the microscope included soundproofing panels, smartphone compatible smoke alarms and swimming pool skimmer box lids, however these were all deemed to satisfy safety requirements.

QBCC Commissioner Brett Bassett said since the Queensland Government introduced the wide-reaching non-conforming building product laws and equipped the QBCC with stronger investigative powers, the NCBP unit, which was established after the laws came in, has been fielding an average of two product complaints per week.

“The laws give the team the power to hold everyone in the building product supply chain accountable,” Mr Bassett said.

“Before the laws were introduced the lion’s share of the blame lay at the end of the supply chain, with sub-contractors and installers carrying the burden of detecting dodgy products.

“Now, everyone in the supply chain including manufacturers, suppliers, installers and importers are responsible for ensuring building products are safe and fit for their intended purpose.”

Last year, a portable pool fence was found to be non-conforming and subsequently recalled nationwide following a QBCC investigation which extended interstate to Victoria.

This year the reach of the law extended overseas when the team required representation from a company which flew senior staff from Canada to Brisbane to answer questions.

Since the laws started there have been a number of key investigations which have resulted in unsafe products being withdrawn from sale, and false claims in product advertising and packaging being rectified.

Mr Bassett said this included a garden shed that was being marketed to thousands of prospective purchasers in Far North Queensland with packaging promising it could withstand winds of up to 147 kilometres per hour.

“To make the shed cyclone-resistant, shoppers had to purchase a separate kit from the warehouse, however this wasn’t clear on the box and the company was compelled by the QBCC to change its advertised claims,” he said.

“The damage that could be done by unsecured aluminium shed panels during a cyclone is unimaginable, these sheds were being sold with little regard for safety.”

A number of products, including internationally imported timber cladding and a wall or ceiling insulation, were investigated after complaints alleged their fire safety claims were false.

The Queensland supplier of the European timber cladding product claimed it was non-combustible and passed appropriate testing, however independent testing commissioned by the QBCC found that the product did not meet the appropriate fire spread test.

The supplier has since ceased its fire safety claims about this product and the QBCC is investigating further potential offences.

The specialist investigation into an aluminium wall and ceiling insulation product found that it achieved a much lower fire classification than the company was claiming. Since the QBCC’s intervention, the company has stopped supplying the insulation.
Mr Bassett said sub-contractors installing these products were being misled by the false claims and this had the potential to cause serious safety risks.

“Every Queenslander has the right to live, work, play and study in a safe built environment and that’s why the work of the NCBP unit is so important,” he said.

“Penalties for defective or negligent work can range from fines of thousands of dollars to a three-year ban for a first offence.”

“The NCBP unit works diligently to ensure when we receive a complaint we investigate extensively to determine if it is non-conforming and then whether we can take appropriate action.

“QBCC officers now routinely investigate parties who are based outside of the state and even outside of Australia to ensure products are safe and fit for purpose.”

Anyone concerned about any potential non-conforming building products can visit www.qbcc.qld.gov.au to lodge a complaint.

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