Opinion: Lack of welder licensing and legislation threat to public safety

Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden talks about welding in Australia. 

Over the past 12 months, I have been shocked at the number of unsafe steel structures reported by industry. The primary cause of these safety concerns is welding that is not fit for purpose and does not comply with recognised international and Australian Standards.

Australian Standards are as good, if not better than, anywhere else in the world. The problem is that very few Australian Standards are supported by regulation or legislation and are therefore only applied on a voluntary basis.

Without any compulsion to manufacture or procure products to a recognised standard, companies take the lowest cost option which is often detrimental to public safety. When a product is inspected, and found to be non-compliant, many refuse to accept responsibility for rectifying the structure, opting instead to take the risk or trying to pass on liability to another part of the supply chain.

When I appeared before the Senate Inquiry into the future of Australia’s steel industry, I was asked by the Senator Kim Carr whether fabricated steel imported into Australia that did not comply with Australian regulations was deliberately circumventing regulations. I had to reply that there are, in fact, no regulations.

In addition, there is no mandated licensing or certification system for welders in Australia. The combination of the two issues is a major threat to public safety. The Australian public is being placed at unnecessary risk.

By comparison, in Europe and North America, not only is compliance with international standards mandatory, it is also compulsory that all welding is carried out by a qualified and certified welder.

This is why Weld Australia looked internationally for an appropriate standard that would provide a benchmark for welder competency in Australia. We had two options: AS 2980 or ISO 9606. In consultation with our members, particularly major asset managers, we settled on ISO 9606 Qualification testing of welders – Fusion welding.

ISO 9606 is a simple test that assesses welding competency according to a specific weld procedure, based on a practical acceptance criteria. It is the only standard in the world which is accepted in both Europe and America, and is the minimum requirement for working on rolling stock, defence and infrastructure projects.

Having decided on this strategy, we acquired an online system that would help us manage the system of qualifying and certifying welders to ISO 9606 – the Australian Welder Certification Register (AWCR). The purpose of the AWCR is to act as a de-facto licensing system in the absence of government support.

Weld Australia is committed to ensuring that no Australian lives are lost through an accident caused by non-compliant welding, without causing undue regulatory burden on industry. As such, in 2019, the aim of Weld Australia is to have the AWCR process brought into legislation so that it becomes compulsory for all welders in Australia to be certified to welding procedures under AS/NZS ISO 9606.

Until recently, I believed this to be more of a vision (or flight of fancy), rather than a potential reality.

Weld Australia CEO Geoff Crittenden.

However, the success of our Advanced Welder Training Centres (AWTCs), and the support we have received from both state and federal governments for the AWTCs, is encouraging me to believe that the various levels of government are becoming more aware of the importance of welding certification and qualification, and the potential risk to public safety that exists without them.

Over the last 12 months, we have secured over $4.3 million in both state and federal government funding for the establishment of five AWTCs across the nation. It is expected that even more will be established over the next year. Recent feedback I’ve had from various members of the federal shadow cabinet has also been extremely positive.

In 2019, it is Weld Australia’s intention, and one of our primary objectives, to have welding qualifications and certifications formally recognised in legislation. We believe that this can be achieved through relatively minor changes in procurement and WorkSafe legislation.

All the work Weld Australia is undertaking, is focused on ensuring compliance with Australian standards. After all, it is these standards which make Australia a safer place to live.

To ensure that welding qualifications and certifications are formally recognised in legislation, the Australian manufacturing industry must all support the AWCR. I implore you to get behind this important initiative. Register on the AWCR. Ensure your employees and subcontractors are registered and certified via the AWCR. Weld Australia needs your support to ensure the status of licensed welder is reintroduced to Australia.