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CROSS Safety Report

Steel connector failures and forged certificates

Report ID: 254 Published: 1 July 2012 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

According to a reporter, some suppliers are receiving components that are accompanied by certificates that are potentially false or forged.

Key Learning Outcomes

For steel fabricators and design engineers:

  • It is good practice to check the adequacy, completeness and authenticity of all certification of structural steelwork, particularly when safety-critical items are involved

For the construction team:

  • 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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CROSS Newsletter 22 contained a report on the failure of steel fixings holding a scaffold to a building due to incorrect material being used and another about allegedly forged certificates accompanying steel plates. This prompted a reporter to come forward with several other examples. It seems that some suppliers are receiving components that have been manufactured elsewhere and are accompanied by certificates that are potentially false or forged. Components in these cases, says the reporter, can be suspension connectors.

Quality assurance

Most specifications used internally depend on quality assurance to demonstrate compliance with design requirements, says the reporter. This normally entails a level of non-destructive testing and possibly destructive testing to verify mechanical properties. Proprietary products such as fasteners, tie rods or couplings are normally accepted as manufactured items and compliance is satisfied by information supplied by the manufacturer stating compliance with national specifications with no verification required. Such reliance on quality assurance alone is now being questioned following failures over the last few years.

Legal responsibility

The UK has been slow in recognising this issue which has been partially addressed in America and Australia. Many products are manufactured largely outside the UK and traded worldwide. This makes product verification far more difficult and quality documentation is essential. The problem is that documentation is often accepted without proper review. The reporter goes on to say that America recognised this issue some time ago (1999) and introduced the Fastener Quality Act (FQA) making the supplier legally responsible. This has improved the internal market in America but one consequence may be that the products are diverted to other countries which have less onerous control.

Australia has adopted the stance that the designer or consultant is responsible for issuing a specification to avoid these problems. As this will be driven essentially by quality assurance it is not clear how effective it will be as a preventative method apart from identifying the responsible party. Clearly in Australia, the designer or consultant needs to consider the option to specify additional testing on delivered items.

Other industries affected

The issue of incorrectly identified, misrepresented or counterfeit products is not solely related to fasteners or products in steelwork construction. In fact, it has been recognised in the aviation industry (aircraft spares traded on quality certificates), offshore construction (steel products traded on material certificates) and the onshore construction industry (steel products traded on material certificates).

Market exploitation

This is a multi-billion pound/dollar market that can be exploited for profit. The result is a product which has properties that have not been substantiated, may have variable quality and may suffer premature failure. It should be noted that this is not just a local issue but has global implications given that these products are now manufactured in many countries and traded worldwide. Components which have been known to fail include bolts, connector parts, castings and steel plates.

Expert Panel Comments

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As noted by the reporter, there are many products which rely on certification to demonstrate safety and thereby avoid or limit testing at the point of use. These include fixings, couplers, some precast products, pre-stressing components and even reinforcement. It is essential to check that such certification is valid, current, and is relevant to the actual product being used. The global nature of the market in many of these products means that there is an increased chance that non-certified products will be presented for use more through ignorance than through deliberate consideration.

In addition, the increased use of CE marking and the introduction of the Construction Product Regulations may lead to products carrying the CE mark that would not necessarily meet current certification procedures. In this change-over period the scope of any CE mark should be checked to ensure it is appropriate for the product/use concerned.

The major problems with fasteners identified in the USA fell into the following categories: improper material substitutions, falsification of certificates, inconsistent heat treatments, wrong plating materials, omission of the stress-relief processing step, mismarked or absent performance indicators, and dimensional discrepancies.

This is a serious issue which needs industry-wide action. However, in the first instance it is suggested that those in receipt of certification should ensure they are aware of the appropriate certification format and type, and have due regard to the provenance of the supply chain. Anyone with experience of such issues is invited to send them to CROSS-AUS.

CROSS-AUS NOTE: Since this Report was published in 2012, the Australian Engineered Fasteners and Anchor Council (AEFAC) has been formed with the objective to enhance the specification, selection, design and installation of structural anchors and fasteners in the Australian construction industry.

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