Engineers are backing calls for the government to tighten New Zealand's steel testing regime.  Experts say New Zealand is a wild west when it comes to steel testing, a view shared by Auckland-based engineer John Scarry.

The issue of substandard steel imports was comparable to the leaky homes crisis and billions of dollars were at stake, Mr Scarry said.

The Australasian Certification Authority wants the country to adopt Europe's stringent testing, where company heads must sign off steel products to show they're up to standard and face jail if they're not.

There were too many unknowns around steel certificates to be confident they were always accurate.

The Society for Safety Engineering is part of the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ). Its chairperson Joseph Bain said the new Health and Safety at Work Act came into force on 4 April and companies have to take more responsibility for ensuring the steel products they import are actually safe.  The paperwork accompanying the steel could not always be trusted, Dr Bain said.

Building Industry Federation chief executive Bruce Kohn pointed out reports of sub-standard steel had been a wake-up call for the industry. While Mr Kohn did not believe issues with poor steel products were systemic, he warned the sector needed to understand the impact of the world over-supply of steel.

"All suppliers and buyers need to be aware there can be variations in steel quality from Asia. In China there's currently a saying that 'steel is cheaper than cabbages'."

The Heavy Engineering Research Association deals with steel construction in buildings. Its director, Wolfgang Scholz, said while it tried to lead the way by having a traceable supply of steel certified products, there were clearly issues with some non-complying products on the market.

Dr Scholz said the Ministry of Building Innovation and Employment (MBIE) needed to take a firmer line to ensure standards were met.

Source: RadioNZ