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Imported Plywood – Buyer Beware

October 8th, 2015

Some plywood is putting the health of workers and consumers at risk, however it is prevalent across Australia. The timber industry has urged consumers to be vigilant and never import or buy substandard ply.

The implications can be serious not only for people’s health, but also for their hip pockets. Using uncertified plywood can spell financial disaster for users, who face the risk of liability, rebuilds and lost time. Largely imported from overseas, these wood products fail to conform to Australian standards and regulatory requirements. They can include bracing plywood, formwork and structural plywood.

Common problems with these products include delaminating, higher than acceptable formaldehyde emissions and misrepresented strength grades, according to the Queensland Government’s building codes department. Formwork plywood is often used as a work platform during critical erection stages and in the pouring and curing of concrete. Uncertified formwork plywood may have a lower than advertised strength grade that may have contributed to the death of an Australian worker in New South Wales in 1986.

Sectors of the timber industry, including the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), have called for import restrictions on companies manufacturing building products that do not comply with Australian standards. CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor urged the Federal Government to take action.

“These companies are putting the lives and safety of Australians at risk by importing building products that do not comply with Australian Standards,” he says.

“The Federal Government needs to properly resource Customs and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) so they can crack down on unsafe imports.

“It’s not good enough to point to the regulations when they are not being enforced. It’s time to take a strong stand to protect Australian lives.”

State authorities are taking a stand against unsafe materials. In a recent test case, a unit development was shut down by WorkCover NSW due to the use of imported non-compliant formply in building construction. WorkCover NSW stopped concrete pouring on the site until the formply was replaced with certified ply.

A 2013 report by the Australian Industry Group (AIG) revealed just how widespread the use of shoddy ply is in Australian construction. Of 222 companies surveyed by the AIG, 92 per cent reported the use of non-compliant ply in their market sector. A further 45 per cent said the unsafe wood had negatively impacted on revenue, margins and employment numbers.

However, the report highlights the failings of testing systems with 43 per cent of respondents admitting they had not lodged complaints about suspect wood products. Almost half said they did not know who to complain to, were unaware of how to lodge a complaint or said previous complaints had fallen on deaf ears.

In its analysis, the AIG found non-conforming products had widely infiltrated the domestic market because of inadequate surveillance, audit checks, testing, first party certification and enforcement.

The use of false labelling or counterfeit stamps on imported products makes detection of inferior ply difficult. This includes the illegitimate use of the Joint Accreditation System – Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) symbol.

To ensure safety and quality, the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia recommend buying products from their fully accredited members.

Plywood, particleboard and medium density fibreboard (MDF) stamped with the Plywood Association of Australia and Engineered Wood Products Association of Australia (PAA-EWPAA) grade mark is the best guarantee of a safe and dependable product.