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Tuesday, 23 March 1999
Page: 4031

Mr HOCKEY (Financial Services and Regulation) (3:22 PM) —by leave—Concerns about the safety of consumers in a large number of high occupancy buildings have led me to issue a notice of investigation and warning to the public under section 65B of the Trade Prac tices Act 1974. The notice advises that a particular type of fire door—that is, fire doors using a Pyrokor core—which were manufactured between 1993 and 3 September 1998 are under investigation to determine whether they will or may cause injury to any person. The notice was published in a special Commonwealth government Gazette on 19 March 1999.

Allegations that these fire doors do not meet mandatory building safety standards were first brought to my attention on 22 February 1999. I then asked the Department of the Treasury to obtain urgent technical advice from state and territory building regulators and from the Australian Building Codes Board on this issue and advise me accordingly.

Fire doors are required to satisfy the safety performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia 1996, which requires the doors to impede the passage of fire through a building. This means that fire doors must be manufactured and installed in accordance with part 1 of Australian Standard 1905. In accordance with the Australian standard, fire doors must be subjected to a standard fire test and be fire rated. For example, a fire door with a fire rating of one hour must impede the passage of fire through the door for at least one hour and a two hour fire rated door for at least two. Fire doors, therefore, provide more time to enable the occupants of a building to evacuate in the event of a fire.

I have been provided with copies of fire door certification schedules which claim the Pyrokor fire doors meet the Building Code requirements. However, I have concerns about the validity of the certifications for two reasons. Firstly, a number of the fire test reports being referenced actually show that the Pyrokor fire doors did not obtain the minimum fire rating of one hour. Secondly, test reports on fire doors constructed of different materials were being referenced, and reliance on these test reports would be invalid. Thus the Pyrokor fire doors have been represented as complying with safety requirements when they may not comply.

The ACCC is currently investigating the certificates of compliance for breaches of sections 52, 53A and 55 of the Trade Practices Act which deal with misleading and deceptive conduct and false representations. This may have serious implications for those with responsibility for the inspection and approval of building works. While enforcement of the Building Code of Australia is a state and territory responsibility, the relevant departments responsible for building regulation do not enforce the Building Code of Australia. This is done by local councils, which have the power to approve building construction and declare buildings fit for occupancy or unsafe as the case may be. If councils were led to believe that the doors met required standards they would naturally have approved the buildings. The department has now written to state and territory departments responsible for building regulation and asked that this matter be brought to the attention of local councils.

Under the Trade Practices Act 1974 I have a range of powers to protect the public from unsafe goods. I can publish a notice stating that specified goods are under investigation and warn of the possible risk involved in their use. I can also order the compulsory recall of goods if it appears to me that the goods `will or may cause injury' to any person and the supplier has not taken satisfactory action to prevent the goods causing injury to any person. Fire doors that do not meet the relevant mandatory safety requirements of the Building Code of Australia may not provide the level of safety and protection expected by the community and government.

I have also received expert technical advice from CSIRO that the installation of a Pyrokor door that does not meet the safety requirements represents a varying degree of life and property hazard. The hazard could be extreme in situations where the occupants are asleep or incapacitated—for example, in hospitals and nursing homes. In other occupancies which contain various combinations of smoke detection and fire control systems the risk to life would be considerably reduced, particularly if the buildings were only occupied for work purposes.

I have been advised that Pyrokor fire doors manufactured between 1993 and 3 September 1998 are installed in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, major shopping centres, stores and supermarkets, high-rise home units, government buildings and private business premises. Before considering the need to order a compulsory recall under the Trade Practices Act I need to establish conclusively that the fire doors in question fail the Building Code safety requirements and that those failures actually pose a threat to the safety of occupants of buildings. Minor technical breaches of the safety requirements may not provide sufficient evidence that the Pyrokor fire doors `will or may cause injury' and, as a consequence, lead me to use my powers to order a compulsory recall under the Trade Practices Act.

I have asked the Department of the Treasury, therefore, to commission urgent testing of the fire doors by the CSIRO, to establish conclusively whether or not the fire doors installed in buildings meet safety requirements and to assess the safety implications if the fire doors do not meet Building Code fire test requirements. These tests may provide conclusive evidence on which to base a compulsory recall under the Trade Practices Act. Although there are varying degrees of risk, I am not prepared to take any chances when there is a potential risk to the lives of consumers and have, therefore, issued the notice of investigation and warning to the public under section 65B of the Trade Practices Act 1974. On completion of the investigation and testing of the Pyrokor fire doors I will publish a further notice advising what action I intend to take. I present a copy of my ministerial statement.