National

KYB names 70 government and municipal office buildings that may be using substandard earthquake shock absorbers

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Scandal-hit KYB Corp. on Friday disclosed the names of 70 government and municipal office buildings that used, or are suspected of having used, substandard earthquake shock absorbers in their construction.

The names were supplied by the company, which also admitted products that failed to meet state standards had been used at 11 of them.

“I would like to sincerely apologize for this improper conduct,” Keisuke Saito, a senior official at KYB, told a hastily organized and packed news conference in Tokyo on Friday afternoon, as the quality control scandal continued to widen after the firm admitted Tuesday to cheating on inspection data concerning earthquake shock absorbers for more than a decade.

“We decided to disclose this information first, in the belief that many people visit these buildings,” the official said. The firm’s president, Yasusuke Nakajima, did not appear at the news conference.

On the list of the 70 buildings was the Finance Ministry in Tokyo as well as the Osaka and Hokkaido prefectural government offices. The 11 buildings recognized as using products that did not meet state standards included the Central Government Building No. 1 in Tokyo, where the agriculture ministry is located, and the main building of Aichi Prefectural Office.

While revealing the names, the company said it has to determine whether there are irregularities at many of the buildings on the list.

“At this point we’ve only been able to compile information concerning these buildings but will try to disclose details about other facilities as soon as such information becomes available,” Saito said. He also admitted that Tokyo Skytree, a popular tourist spot, was among buildings using dampers that did not meet quality requirements.

The list is only part of the nearly 1,000 buildings already known to have been affected by KYB’s fabrication of quality data, which is suspected to have stretched between January 2003 and this September. The sub-standard products suspected of having been used were also found to have been exported to Taiwan, although the volume is small, according to the company.

Earlier in the day, KYB was also found to have been using uncertified materials in the manufacture of earthquake shock absorbers used in a total of 165 buildings.

KYB, which has the largest market share — about 40 percent — for seismic isolator and damping devices in Japan, said the shock absorber irregularities occurred when materials used for pistons, paint and sealant used in its oil dampers for buildings were changed without obtaining state certification for the alterations.

The uncertified quake-absorbing oil dampers were shipped between January 2005 and last month, according to the company.

KYB said it erroneously believed that it did not need to obtain fresh certifications when it started manufacturing pistons made of materials different from those for which state approval had been obtained, as their chemical composition and mechanical structure were equivalent to those of the certified materials.

It also did not record paint materials in certification applications at the request of clients, and mistakenly believed that certifications had already been obtained for the altered sealant materials, it said.

After the powerful earthquakes in western Japan in 1995 and in northeastern Japan in March 2011, earthquake shock absorbers have been required in more public buildings, causing a surge in demand.

KYB boosted up production in the 2000s, but it did not increase the number of quality control inspectors, according to a source familiar with the matter.

KYB and its subsidiary are believed to have fabricated data for two types of oil dampers between January 2003 and September this year at their plants in Mie and Gifu prefectures.

During that period it is believed there was only one officer in charge of inspections, and that the practice of data manipulation was verbally passed down by successive inspectors.

The companies rewrote quality data on the oil dampers at their plants, apparently aiming to avoid the burden of performing additional tests for products that had failed quality inspections.

The company has also said almost all products that did not meet quality inspection standards were shipped following the data tampering.

At a regular news conference Friday, infrastructure minister Keiichi Ishii lambasted the firm.

“Such practices have sparked fears among property owners and users, and damaged public trust in the safety of buildings. It is extremely regrettable,” he said.

Ishii said that earlier this week his ministry had urged KYB Corp. to prepare a countermeasure plan to prevent any recurrence and report such steps by year-end, as well as to quickly replace the parts that did not meet quality standards specified by the ministry.

The ministry also ordered KYB to establish consultation centers and explain the situation to property owners and the public, and to verify whether the buildings in which the relevant KYB parts were used are really safe.

He said the malpractice should not pose a risk that buildings will collapse in the event of an earthquake of the highest level on the Japanese seismic scale of 7, but stressed that the substandard parts do need to be replaced.

“We will strictly monitor whether the firm is doing its utmost to make consumers feel reassured of the buildings’ safety, and that such incidents won’t happen again,” Ishii said.

Company sources said Thursday that work to replace the potentially faulty shock absorbers will likely continue beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has said the Olympics Aquatics Center and Ariake Arena, set to be used for the 2020 Games, are equipped with KYB products, but that replacement of the shock absorbers is not expected to be completed before September 2020.

At least eight employees were found to have been involved in altering data for seismic absorber products. Their signatures were found in records with falsified inspection data that likely affect apartments, hospitals and government buildings across Japan, according to sources close to the matter.

KYB operates in 24 countries, according to its website. Its shock absorbers are also used in cars and trains.

Information from Kyodo added.