Experts Raise Steel Concerns At Conference

Engineers and local construction industry players are raising concerns about what they say is the presence of sub-par structural steel in Fiji. One civil engineer says the imported steel frames
17 Jun 2018 15:31
Experts Raise Steel Concerns At Conference
President of the Fiji Master Builders Association Vijay Raghwan (standing middle) speaking during the Construction Industry Council conference at Warwick Fiji, Korolevu on June 15, 2018. Photo: Pacific Reach

Engineers and local construction industry players are raising concerns about what they say is the presence of sub-par structural steel in Fiji.

One civil engineer says the imported steel frames being used in large amounts in buildings all across Fiji is unsafe and does not meet ductility requirements.

The steel is typically used to construct building frames not just in Fiji but the wider Pacific region.   

Many believe the issue to be a sensitive one and refuse to publicly comment on the matter.

“We sent the steel to New Zealand for chemical tests and the certificate that came back said it had the make-up of scrap metal,” says Terrence Erasito.

Mr Erasito is the director for Erasito Consultants Limited and Erasito Beca Consultants Limited, both major engineering consultancy firms based in Suva.

“The concern we have is that structural steel has been coming into Fiji along with reinforcing steel bars that doesn’t meet the ductility requirements to perform under, for instance, an earthquake.

“When a structural engineer designs a building, it is meant to be able to sway but retain its strength so that the occupants can safely exit the building in the event of an earthquake.

“The steel needs to be ductile and hence, be able to be bent several times without losing strength.

“Some of the steel that is coming into Fiji is brittle; it has too much carbon or the chemical composition doesn’t meet the ductility requirements that the steel needs to be used in earthquake designed buildings.”

Mr Erasito raised the concerns on the final day of the inaugural Construction Industry Council conference in Warwick Fiji, Korolevu.

The chief executive officer of the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission Joel Abraham says the agency would seriously look into the matter if it is raised with them.

“It is good they are raising these issues, but it has to be done in the right forum,” Mr Abraham said.

“If they lodge a complaint with us we can then go ahead and investigate the particular trader or whoever may be distributing sub-standard structural steel.”

The critical importance of steel in a building’s structural make-up makes the revelation an alarming one.

United States of America president Donald Trump has slapped tariffs on China for what he claims is them exporting sub-standard steel to the world.

But it is unclear where the steel coming into Fiji originates from.

“That issue has been brought to our attention and it is a very big concern for us,” says Warren Yee, chairman of the Fiji Building Standards Committee.

“With regards to structural steel we already have a code on that that’s adopted from Australian standards.

“I think we need to form a working group very very quickly to look at the codes and if necessary impose some additional requirements on checks and enforcement.”

The committee reports to the Trade Standards  Advisory Council and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Mr Erasito said: “We’ve had projects where structural steel failed under normal working conditions. We are fortunate that no-one got hurt.

“It is important that Government puts in place measures that ensure distributors comply with to ensure that the steel is ductile and compliant with our Fiji codes.”

Resolutions to Tackle Common Issues

The Construction Industry Council has prepared resolutions at the conclusion of its inaugural conference in key areas like training, licensing, minimising disputes, cyclone insurance and standards.

The resolutions will now be submitted to Government as a unified document representing the desire of the industry to solve these issues.

To meet the training needs, it was decided that all students enrolled at technical colleges be allocated apprenticeships with the support of the industry and Government.

There is also a push to ensure the Fiji National University and other institutions are adequately resourced in all areas, including better lecturers.

In the area of licensing, the industry body intends to form a working group that will work with Government to setup a framework for licensing.

The CIC hopes to align licensing standards against Australia or New Zealand benchmarks.

The CIC is also looking at minimising disputes in the billion dollar industry with solutions that are “win-win” for both parties.

It wants to work closely with the Fiji Mediation Centre to achieve settlements in areas like contractual disputes and more.

In the area of cyclone insurance, the CIC intends to change the provision that requires cyclone certificates to be renewed every seven years.

Cyclone certificates are issued by Insurance Council of Fiji approve engineers and are required to receive insurance coverage for damages incurred during cyclones.

In the area of standards, the CIC hopes to form working group that can meet regularly to discuss issues raised at the conferece.

These issues include the selling of sub-standard building products like structural steel and reinforced steel bars.


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