Undertreatment is such a serious problem that it could threaten the future of the entire wood-treatment industry.
This cautionary note from Bertus follows reports that large quantities of poles, in some cases the majority, are failing after only a few years due to under-treatment and the poles not meeting the relevant specifications. Some very large buyers, including government parastatals, are announcing that they are already considering switching to alternatives as a result.
Dolphin Bay thanks and commends our many customers who are producing high-quality poles. Nevertheless, under-treatment is widespread in all African countries including South Africa, and is affecting the sustainability of timber industry, says Bertus. “We need a strong, sustainable industry in Africa, and we need to compete with the rest of the world. It is unacceptable to sell sub-standard products in Africa, just as it is unacceptable anywhere else.”
Part of the problem is that some procurement companies are buying from backyard operations as these offer more attractive pricing, but the consequence is timber that fails after only a few years. Buyers must be absolutely sure they are purchasing from reputable, accredited sources, and realise that they get what they pay for, says Bertus.
At the same time, some plants are under-treating in order to cut costs and push out large quantities of product quickly. “Under-treatment will save you only two- to four-percent of your costs in the short term, but it could cost your entire business and even the industry in the long term, because buyers will switch – in fact, some already are switching - to alternatives to timber,” says Bertus.
This problem is intensified by inspection bodies certifying treated timber as compliant with the relevant standards when it is not, as they fail to check whether the timber was properly treated. This gives management of the timber plants a false sense of security, an oversight that will come back to bite the plant at some point, says Bertus.
“Some parties are blaming the preservatives themselves, such as CCA or creosote, for the failure of treated poles, without looking at why the poles are failing,” he says. “It’s not the chemical that is to blame, but under treatment or poor preparation of the timber before treatment. The problem relates not to the preservative but to the application.
“We wish to reassure our customers that CCA has the longest track record of all wood preservative chemicals, having been in use since 1939, and that when it is used properly, it results in poles lasting 25 – 40 years. It is the best product on the market.”
Rigorous quality-control procedures must be implemented at each treatment plant to ensure that proper treatment takes place, he says. Some buyers are already using Securus AT and XRF machines to test whether the proper solution strength has been prepared. Another extremely helpful tool is Quadra, our digital timber treatment book, which monitors and keeps records as to whether the timber was properly treated. We encourage customers to make use of this technology so that they can prove to their customers that their timber was properly treated.
It is our responsibility as individual companies, and that of the industry collectively, to ensure proper treatment takes place, says Bertus. “We must continually ask ourselves, ‘Are we producing quality treated timber?’
“We will only start to find solutions if we answer this question honestly.”