Welding industry unveils solution to save steel industry

The Australian welding industry wants the Federal Government to enact laws now to safeguard public safety and the steel industry, Geoff Crittenden, CEO of the Welding Technology Institute of Australia (WTIA) says.

“The solution to the steel industry’s woes is for the Federal Government to draft legislation to mandate that imported, fabricated steel must be certified to Australian Standards before it can be erected,” he said.

“The law is vital to ensure public safety and will establish fair competition for Australia’s fabrication and steel industry.”

Mr Crittenden said about 600,000 tonnes of fabricated steel was imported to Australia annually and about 80% did not comply with Australian or other internationally recognised standards.

In testimony this month to the Senate Economics References Committee’s inquiry into the future of Australia’s steel industry, Mr Crittenden gave examples of bridges and other structures that were unsafe and a danger to the public.

In response to questioning from Shadow Industry Minister Senator Kim Carr, Mr Crittenden said there was no law requiring fabricated steel to be inspected by a qualified welding inspector to ensure it met Australian Welding Standards.

He has suggested a two-tiered scheme with audited self-certification permitted for some fabricated products, but compulsory third-party certification for fabricated steel used in high-risk projects, including road, rail, mining and energy infrastructure.

WTIA, as the welding industry’s peak body, could manage the scheme, including facilitating independent, third-party qualified inspectors to ensure welds on imported steel were safe, Mr Crittenden said.

“It’s a simple solution to stop substandard fabricated steel products being imported. We just need government support for a regulated scheme.”

When defective welds in imported fabrications were identified, Australian fabrication shops were asked to rework them, increasing whole-of-life costs. “If it’s a government project, that cost is ultimately borne by taxpayers,” Mr Crittenden said.

The cost of additional reworking could be avoided if it were illegal to import fabricated steel without it being inspected and certified.

“I fear governments are not taking public safety seriously,” Mr Crittenden said. ”Right around Australia, there are bridges, light poles, crash barriers, road gantries and other infrastructure manufactured from imported, fabricated steel that has never been certified as being safe. They all have the potential to fail with a resulting loss of life.

“Must we wait for deaths to occur? We need action now,” he said.