First concrete cancer, now it’s wobbly steel

The New Zealand Transport Agency has admitted that weak steel began to be installed as piles for bridges on the Huntly Bypass before local test results had come back.

A sample of the cheap Chinese steel had been sent to an independent lab, but contractors Fulton Hogan and HEB began pounding in the piles, expecting the tests would come back positive.

Eleven days later, in January, they came back as failed.

The agency released a statement, saying it wanted to to address “incorrect claims” that independent testing of the steel used in the piles for the Huntly bypass were only ordered after construction of the piles began.

Three industry sources have told RNZ News the huge steel tubes ballooned and deformed after the installation began, and tests were ordered afterwards.

RNZ News asked the agency for a response over the 10 days since the story broke.

An NZTA spokesperson on Friday said test samples were taken on 8 December last year, but were delayed, and installation began in mid-January because contractors Fulton Hogan and HEB Construction thought the steel would pass.

It was a gamble they lost.   So clearly they’ve had to demolish the sub-standard section and do it properly.  Right? 

After the tests, the piles could have been pulled out but were not, and instead were reinforced with concrete for two of the bridges.

Steel & Tube, which imported the weak tubes, is now responsible for finding replacement steel tubes or casings for two more bridges.

The Transport Agency would not say how it will monitor that process to ensure quality steel is bought.

NZTA has refused to tell RNZ News by how much, exactly, the steel failed tests and has refused to spell out how Steel & Tube would be prevented from importing more bad steel.

It also refused to release to RNZ News the name of the steel mill or fabricator in China the steel came from, on the grounds that the contractors “believe this information to be commercially sensitive”.

It was possible Steel & Tube did not know the identity of the mill or fabricator as it is common for Chinese trading companies to refuse to reveal those details to steel buyers.

Lab testing watchdog International Accreditation New Zealand asked Steel & Tube a week ago for the name of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) accredited lab in China that tested its steel.

It was not known if the listed company, which is New Zealand’s largest steel distributor, has handed that over.

NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie, and the agency’s highways and network operations group manager Tommy Parker, refused to take calls from RNZ News.

The agency said in its statement it “can assure New Zealanders that quality assurance processes are in place for the construction of state highway projects”.

Confidence inspiring stuff.

For some reason, when we build substandard structures in this country, we do the 3 monkeys routine and leave the problem to a future generation to deal with.   Wind forward 60 years, and someone will be saying “but they knew it was substandard when they built it!”

Safety First?   Only if you own a worm farm.  If you’re into construction, you can leave death traps for the future because right now it is Profits First.


– Phil Pennington, RNZ

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.