BLOG · BY TTF CEO, DAVID HOPKINS · 20 May 2021
Not so long ago, the President of the Timber Trade Federation, Charles Hopping of Hoppings Softwood Products, remarked to our annual gathering that the Grenfell disaster had ‘changed everything’ for the construction sector. Some four years down the line, the construction sector is coalescing around various actions, set out in three key pieces of information which I would urge everyone to read, which emanate from the challenge set out in Dame Judith Hackitt’s original report.
Firstly, published last October, is ‘Setting the Bar’, the latest report of the Competence Steering Group for Building a Safer Future. The second is the Construction Products Association’s ‘Construction Product Information Industry Consultation: Better Data, Safer Building’, setting out the need for, and work towards implementing a pan-sector Code for Construction Product Information. These two workstreams go hand in hand. Thirdly, launched only in March, is the Construction Leadership Council’s Skills Plan 2021-2025. Taken together, these three crystalise the steps that need to be taken to formalise the construction sector’s commitment to safe building products and practices of the future.
In ‘Setting the bar’, the deliberations and action plans of eleven Working Groups, covering a vast swathe of the construction industry, detail requirements for demonstrating the competence people working in their individual sectors. Working Group 12, the Construction Products Competence group, will be the next to publish its findings.
In the meantime, the Code for Construction Product Information recognises the importance of both the competence of the individuals conveying information, and also of their ethical behaviour while doing so.
These strands – competence and ethics – reflect what the Timber Trade Federation has been working on of recent times, in our campaigns on Chinese plywoods and now on timber treatments. In both cases, we were faced with a mis-match in product descriptions and a need to uplift the trade’s knowledge of how to detect material which didn’t meet its specification. With Chinese plywoods, detailed research revealed huge inconsistencies between the timber species and glue bonds quoted on Chinese suppliers’ documentation and the actual products supplied. This has taken time to iron out along the supply chain, but TTF members adopted an alteration to our Code of Conduct which makes due diligence responsibilities clear to both Chinese suppliers and UK importers.
Our campaign on timber treatments, in line with the principles behind the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI), is designed to ensure that anyone trading in or selling ‘treated timber’ gives precise information as to which level of treatment timber has received. This enables timber and builders’ merchants to check suppliers’ documentation and make sure they are getting the material they asked for. It is also intended to make sure that merchants understand why and how timber treatments vary, and which types of construction and garden timbers need which level of treatment. In this way all our customers will be getting the right timber for the right job and can expect it to perform in a designated situation.
As our trade starts to get to grips with the CCPI, it will make us all stop and re-examine how we can prove to our customers in the trade that our people know what they are talking about and can offer sound advice. Some companies choose to write their own timber training courses based around their business needs. Others send their staff on external courses, the two most popular being run by the Wood Technology Society (formerly the Institute of Wood Science) now under the banner of professional body IOM3. These give a good basic grounding in timber, panel products and certification, sufficient for most new entrants to our trade to get to grips with the material they are dealing with, and to know when to ask colleagues for advice.
It is the gaining and formalising of experience above that level which the sector will be focussing on as we move forward. New matrices of construction product competence, developed through the various post-Grenfell Working Groups, will result in new overarching competency standards for construction, which we in the timber trade can then work with and adapt to the needs of our industry. The Timber Trade Federation is now fully engaged on producing its own map of the training, skills and education needs of our members, wherever they sit along the wood supply chain, as our contribution to a post-Grenfell world.
This blog was first published in the Timber Trader Spring edition 2021