Steel and Tube says it has no lab for testing mesh

9:42 pm on 18 March 2016

Steel and Tube now says that it does not have a laboratory for testing its reinforcing mesh despite its test certificates being signed off by a 'laboratory manager'.

Christchurch construction.

The mesh was developed as a direct result of the Christchurch quakes. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The steel company only uses in-house testing and is now under investigation by the Commerce Commission for issuing many thousands of certificates with the logo of top accredited lab Holmes Solutions on them.

Asked by RNZ News about who does the auditing of its lab, a Steel and Tube spokeswoman responded that the company did not have a lab.

She said that a lab would require scientists and the company did not have scientists doing its testing.

Rather, it is supervised by one of its factory managers, Anish Chand, in one of its Auckland factories.

His name appears on two of the five test certificates RNZ News has, beside the title 'laboratory manager'. On the others, a scrawled signature is beside that title.

However, earlier this week Steel and Tube chief executive Dave Taylor said Holmes Solutions' logo was left on the test certificates inadvertently four years ago, in a mistake that was only discovered late last week.

See the test certificate document here

The mesh was developed as a direct result of the Christchurch quakes.

It is put in load-bearing walls and floors of high-rise buildings to hold the concrete together during an earthquake.

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The company outputs many thousands of sheets of steel mesh.

Chief executive Dave Taylor refused to be interviewed last night but this is what he said on Wednesday.

"We have people taking on multiple roles and multiple responsibilities. So I don't think it's unusual to have the factory manager or supervisor also fulfilling laboratory tasks and duties."

This is not allowed to happen in accredited labs.

The international and New Zealand standard insists that laboratory staff doing commercial testing must be kept totally separate from the running of the business.

In practice in this country that means there is not a single accredited laboratory that has a manager who also works in production or as a factory manager.

But Steel and Tube's laboratory is not accredited, and for such labs there are no rules.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is the regulator of building standards.

It confirmed last night it does not inspect any laboratories, whether in-house or accredited, in any way.

MBIE said this was not its role and it had no mandate. It said there was no agency that checked in-house labs and that New Zealand had a self-certification approach.

Chris Woudenberg has run an accredited lab for 29 years. CPS in Auckland tests other laboratories' testing equipment to ensure it is properly calibrated.

Crown agency IANZ audits his lab every year and outside experts conduct technical and staff audits every three years.

If a lab was not undergoing such a competency audit you could not trust the results, Mr Woudenberg said.

"You have got no confidence in what they are actually doing. So those numbers on those certificates could mean nothing at all."

Alternatively, Steel and Tube could choose to use an independent accredited lab, such as Holmes Solutions. Some of its rival mesh makers do this - others also test in-house.

In a media statement yesterday, Steel and Tube said that its seismic mesh fully complied with standards and it is fully confident in its in-house testing results.

However its stock price fell as much as 8 percent yesterday before closing down 3 percent - wiping $6 million off the company's market value.

RNZ News asked if the company would get some mesh samples tested urgently by an independent accredited lab to confirm the mesh was as strong as it should be. Such tests take two or three hours to do.

Steel and Tube did not reply and nor to our request for it to supply its long-term quality data on the mesh.

IANZ would not comment while the Commerce Commission investigation into Steel and Tube was on going.