New legislation usually creates more paperwork, more confusion and allows businesses less time to get on with their work. So it’s rather pleasing when new legislation actually makes everyone’s job a great deal easier, which is precisely what the timber treatment Hazard Classes do.

With the restriction of use of CCA on virtually all timber products, apart from a few special items, the timber industry can now begin to rationalise its entire product offer, making life easier for its customers.

In the past, specifications talked of retentions and all manner of abbreviations and acronyms. Now specifiers just have to familiarise themselves with five Hazard Classes (HCs), one of which is sub-divided.

These are:

  • HC1: internal use, dry, insect risk;

  • HC2: internal use, risk of wetting;

  • HC3a: external use, above damp proof course, coated;

  • HC3b: external use, above damp proof course, uncoated;

  • HC4: direct soil or fresh water contact;

  • HC5: marine use.

    While individual finishes may require different types of base processes (ie low pressure solvent based), there should not be any reason for confusion on the basic principles.

    Anthony Bell, Osmose marketing services manager, explained how the company is spreading the simplified word. “Visitors to our website ( select ‘specification guide’. This will bring up a pictorial description of all the components and their respective use, together with the Hazard Class that they should be treated to. We also have a handy leaflet A quick guide to specifying timber.”

    All this information and legislation has actually been around for some time, but inevitably the message is only just starting to filter through to all levels of the trade. “Our customers are well informed through our training and communication,” said Janet Brown of Arch Timber Protection. “Through our contact with architects and the CPD seminars that we run, specifiers tend to be up to speed; it’s with the end user that the industry has the most work to do. At Arch we have the means to improve levels of knowledge and the guide included with this issue of TTJ is just one example.”

    Steve Young, director of operations at the Timber Decking Association (TDA), explained where its members see the current level of knowledge. “None of the basic elements are new and we’ve been setting out treatment specifications for some time through our DeckMark QA Scheme requirements. But just calling timber ‘treated’ is still a problem as people don’t understand the nuances; it’s a myth that all treated timber is the same.

    “To meet the design performance, particularly with decking and other external timber structures, you must ensure that the specification for each part is adhered to. In other words, the posts which are in ground contact must be to HC4, whilst the other elements will probably only need to be to HC3b.

    Lost knowledge

    “The frustrating part is that when preservative treated timber was initially brought onto the market there was a great deal of knowledge, which appears to have gone, leaving people just assuming timber is either treated or untreated. During our TDA training courses we include a section on treatment, so yard staff can explain to customers which components can or cannot be used in ground contact. If we want to ensure the long-term future of external timber we have to provide quality products and information, through trained staff.”

    One leading treatment company confirmed the suspicions of many. “Out of our entire customer base, there only seem to be six who actually state on their purchase orders which HC they require. The usual requests are ‘green treat’, ‘CCA’ or ‘clear’. We have to protect ourselves and we have written to every customer explaining that, unless requested otherwise, we will treat to HC2. What’s even more worrying is when we get asked for (but don’t supply) ‘clear’ treatment for vulnerable components like fence posts, because the customer wants them in a hurry.”

    Neil Ryan, managing director of treatment facilities company PTG Treatments, agreed that educating end users presented challenges. “We have started to work with our customers to get this information across. It’s probably fair to say that the chemical manufacturers assume that there’s a good understanding of legislation at most levels, but since joining PTG I’ve soon learned that this is not the case, so now we’re really pushing this information.

    “We often have to start the conversation with ‘is it green or yellow treatment?’ and build up from there, by asking structured questions. The problem is that if we misinterpret the information there’s a risk that the wrong product specification will be used. While that’s down to our customer, nobody wants to get it wrong intentionally. We have preset codes for each HC so that our paperwork explains the relevant uses, but inevitably many customers just want to know ‘what’s your price for green?’.”

    Mr Ryan also explained that some other countries address the issue more effectively. “In France all the information is displayed at the point of sale and the customer is asked which HC is needed. In an unregulated, unpoliced industry such as the UK, the lowest common denominator tends to stick; hopefully the new HCs will raise the whole profile of treatment.”

    Balancing the merits

    Realistically, the price of treatment is mainly affected by the amount of chemical applied and over-treatment is wasteful. The industry also has to balance the merits of long life performance against poor public perception of timber, particularly if fence posts fail after a few years and are replaced by concrete or plastic.

    Labelling is probably the most effective method of advising customers, particularly retail buyers, of each component’s suitability. Hoppings Softwood Products is a leading supplier of decking products and a member of the TDA. Chairman Charles Hopping explained the company’s strat-egy. “We offer HC1/2 joists for general building and we’re seeing a growing demand for treated timber in general. We introduced joists specifically for decking to HC3 and posts to HC4. On labelling we have ‘in ground contact’ and ‘out of ground contact’ labels and we promote this very heavily. Even after this level of promotion, many customers still seem to opt for lowest cost.”

    Given the amount of information available from manufacturers and the time that has elapsed since these changes were made, it would be reasonable to expect some sort of recognition within the industry at importing and merchanting levels. However, a brief phone around drew a complete blank.

    For example, two major importers of treated fencing material were contacted. One made reference to the data sheet from its treatment supplier which advised that the chemical could reach HC4, but did not know what the material was actually treated to. The other importer suggested that we contact its treatment company and said all its fencing materials were treated to the same level.

    The merchants did not fare any better and while one did go and check, he was only able to confirm the brand of chemical used.

    Fortunately the British-grown sawmilling sector does seem to be up to speed, with one company explaining very accurately how it treats to HC3 on all products, except posts which are treated to HC4; any specific specifications could also be catered for.

    The challenge remains to change the general trade impression that all “treated” timber is the same. All parties can create a significant change in this mentality by asking some very direct questions, using the HC numbers as easy reference points.

    Written verification is the main tool. By accurate confirmation on all purchase paperwork, requesting treatment certification and by explaining all of the issues to customers in writing, the deliberate corner cutters will be identified, leaving the bulk of the timber industry to continue promoting quality products, with known values, that are fit for purpose.