26 Jul 2018

Govt suspends six CodeMark certificates for composite panels

2:46 pm on 26 July 2018

Certificates for virtually all the types of aluminium composite panel used on high-rises in New Zealand have been suspended.

Man in high vis gear at building site.Architecture, Construction Safety, First Concept image.

Photo: Rawpixel Ltd.

Combustible, polyethylene core aluminium composite panels used as external cladding have been the subject of scrutiny after the Grenfell Tower fire in London last year.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment put on hold six CodeMark certificates covering 13 panel types, saying they lack documentation to support claims of their fire-retardant properties.

The panels are related to, but less combustible, than the ones on Grenfell Tower.

MBIE said manufacturers had to rectify the problems identified with their CodeMarks and if not - the certificates may be revoked.

The ministry said the investigation did not prove that the panels were dangerous.

Property Council head of advocacy Matt Paterson said building owners who had used the panels would be asking who was liable.

"The CodeMark system is meant to provide assurance but the withdrawal of these certificates is just further proof that the whole thing is broken."

CodeMark was criticised in a review carried out last year by Deloittes for MBIE which found the scheme was seriously flawed.

The accreditation agency JAS-ANZ, which runs CodeMark from its base in Australia, rejected key findings of the review that faults its expertise and monitoring of the scheme.

Suspension an 'overreaction' - Certmark

The company that issues the six suspended certificates, Certmark International of Queensland, said the ministry had over-reacted

"In all cases MBIE has not found any indication that the products are dangerous. This means that they are safe to use," Certmark chief executive John Thorpe said.

"The suspension of these products ... is an overreaction and a better course of action would be to discuss the enhancing of the data on the certificate."

Revised, more detailed certificates had been sent to the ministry, and Certmark wanted to be able to issue those but had not heard back, he said.

Worried panel manufacturers had been in touch with him today, and he was concerned the ministry wanted information included that was beyond the scope of the certificates.

National Party says govt has taken too long to act

The National Party questioned the delays in the ministry doing something.

"It has taken the government too long to take action given that a report damning the certification of these aluminium composite panels in New Zealand was delivered to the government in November last year," its construction spokesperson Andrew Bayly said.

The ministry previously said that suspending certificates would have "considerable practical, reputational and commercial consequences" for panel suppliers and for the certifier, Certmark.

In a statement today it said it had had to run a fair and legally sound process.

"The expert advice found there was insufficient documentation ... and manufacturers have been unable to satisfy the evidence-based requirements outlined by MBIE to support claims made in the CodeMark certificates."

The suspension raised further issues about the integrity of the CodeMark system, Mr Bayly said.

"There is still a range of substandard materials coming into New Zealand, including substandard electrical cabling which has been used in multiple Auckland apartments, structural steel and plumbing ware, and shower glass that doesn't meet safety requirements.

"Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa must address the integrity of CodeMark."

The ministry is changing Codemark, among a series of other construction industry reviews which include:

  • Building product assurance
  • How risk is shared around contractors and clients
  • Whether engineers should be licensed to do safety-critical work on commercial projects

However, the Building Code itself is not being reviewed despite pressure from industry veterans to do this, and despite the Minister of Housing and Urban Development Phil Twyford saying late last year the code would be reviewed.

The last overhaul of the code was in 1991, with it tweaked in 2004 in response to the leaky buildings debacle.