The infrastructure ministry said Tuesday it will expand its probe into data management for piling work to the entire industry, as fears of manipulation involving building foundation piles continue to grow.

The move follows last Friday’s announcement by Asahi Kasei Construction Materials Corp. that it manipulated piling data for at least 266 projects over the past decade, while major piling work contractor Japan Pile Corp. admitted it was guilty of similar data falsification in at least six of the projects it has handled over the past five years.

Infrastructure minister Keiichi Ishii said he will instruct the Concrete Pile Installation Technology Association, an industry body comprising 41 firms, including Japan Pile and Asahi Kasei Construction Materials, to report by Thursday on the status of the member firms’ investigations into possible falsification of piling data.

“The revelation of data manipulation at Japan Pile has deepened suspicions that such misconduct is seen industrywide,” Ishii told a news conference. “If there’s a tendency in the industry to take documentation of projects lightly as long as the piling work itself is appropriate, such a tendency needs to be corrected immediately.”

But it is unclear to what degree Tuesday’s request by the ministry will help uncover truths behind the growing scandal.

Most of the piling firms — which are hired by general contractors to undertake just the piling work — do not have in-house employees versed in technical know-how, as they normally hire engineers from subcontractors further down the multilayered subcontractor network to do the actual work for them.

According to credit research firm Tokyo Shoko Research, Japan has 454 such subcontractors that carry out actual piling work, the majority of which are small firms with less than 10 employees. Around 70 percent of the 454 firms report sales of less than ¥500 million per year, according to TSR.

“Neither Japan Pile nor Asahi Kasei Construction Materials are included in these 454 firms, as in reality their businesses revolve around the manufacture and sale of construction materials, including piles,” said Mitsuhiro Harada, an analyst at TSR. “The piling work makes up only a small part of their business.”

Asahi Kasei Construction Materials itself acknowledged Friday that most of the 50 employees that were found to have tampered with piling data had been on loan from other firms.

Harada said major piling firms that are members of the industry association shy away from hiring full-time piling engineers because doing so would mean more fixed costs, which are undesirable due to the fluctuating nature of piling contracts.

“It’s actually the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy who are driving piles into the ground. I don’t think those piling firms (subjected to the ministry probe) have detailed records — especially for projects dating back five or 10 years,” he said.

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