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CROSS Safety Report

Issues with imported steel

Report ID: 474 Published: 1 October 2014 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

Defective steel, says a reporter, was found in a major retail store where the material had been imported from a supplier overseas.

Key Learning Outcomes

For construction professionals:

  • Structural steel should be CE marked and purchased from reputable steel manufacturers who meet the appropriate manufacturing standard

  • It is good practice to have a quality control procedure in place to inspect incoming steelwork to ensure it meets the required standard

  • Where a defect is identified in a product covered by a harmonised European Standard, the trading standards department of the local authority should be notified in order that they can investigate and take any necessary action

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Defective steel, says a reporter, was found in a major retail store where the steel had been imported from a supplier in the Far East. This only came to light after the problem was noticed on site and subsequent testing revealed major flaws in the manufacturing process.

Cable drops were being fixed to the columns by electricians who were drilling small bolt holes.  They reported the steel started off as expected but soon the drill bit literally jumped through the webs.

Tests on steel

All the columns were X-ray tested and five seriously defective 203UC and 254UC sections had to be replaced with several others being repaired. The roof was on and first fix under way. Fortunately no beams were involved as the records and some site sample testing indicated they were of different origin. 

Inadequate steel reinforcement

Rebar, also imported and amounting to a few hundred tonnes, showed signs of inadequate production, some even had visible (just) laminations on their surface. The original steel had been melted and turned into billets that were then folded over and over in the production of recycled steel.

Having seen recent building collapses in the Far East coupled with the all too common falsification of certification, it is little wonder, continues the reporter, why people are very cautious about using materials from some countries.

Expert Panel Comments

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CROSS have had several reports of defective imported materials and the Standing Committee on Structural Safety recently published the alert – Anomalous documentation for proprietary products. Designers should ensure they have proper certification (though we have also had reports of false certificates) and consider the imposition of random quality checks on delivered material at the start of a project.

Designs are based on material specifications being met. Any designer must have an appreciation of where the material might come from and how testing can be specified for it. The issue is probably hidden within the procurement chain so perhaps it is here that more rigour is required in the review of material testing. 

Designs are based on material specifications being met. Any designer must have an appreciation of where the material might come from and how testing can be specified for it

Should clients give instructions for greater sampling of material? Normally there are rigorous certification schemes for both steel sections and steel reinforcement, assuming these products were purchased through a certified route, to ensure the provenance of materials. But this example shows that these can be bypassed. Construction contracts should be very clear on the expected procedures and the associated documentary evidence required. Buyer beware!

Where a defect is identified in a product covered by a harmonised European Standard, the trading standards department of the local authority should be notified in order that they can investigate and take any necessary action, such as product recalls and alerting other users.  They can also take legal action, which will hopefully act as a deterrent to placing non-compliant goods on the market in future.

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