Grading battens for structural safety

Graded battens

The timber industry is continuing to experience problems with substandard timber being imported into the UK and incorrectly sold as BS 5534 graded roofing battens. We talk to TDUK member Marley, which is using the new Code for Construction Products Information to fight back.

The timber industry has seen a lot of worrying press recently concerning counterfeit and non-compliant roofing battens. Product is being brought into the UK and sold as roofing battens that does not meet BS 5534 – the Code of Practice for Slating and Tiling for Pitched Roofs and Vertical Cladding that covers roofing battens.

This British Standard sets out all the grading requirements that a piece of timber must adhere to in order to be considered a roofing batten. This includes the size of the batten, the tolerances that can be applied to knots within the wood and the moisture content, as well as a number of other stipulations.

Roofing battens are a safety critical component of any roofing structure. Contractors who work at height rely on a batten’s structural strength to take their weight, and the weight of any tiles or materials, while carrying out building or renovation work – with potentially fatal consequences to the contractor and those working on site should that batten fail.

As well as being a serious safety hazard, substandard battens can also affect the longevity of the roof itself, possibly causing it to fail or weaken over time.

Fighting non-compliant battens

Unfortunately, the timber sector has seen large volumes of non-standard battens enter the UK market in the past few years. These are often coloured and falsely stamped with BS 5534, even though they don’t comply with the standard.

TDUK member Marley, which supplies roofing battens to the UK market, is determined to play its part in stamping out this concerning trend. As a result, the company has invested heavily in achieving Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI) accreditation for its JB Red roofing battens range, becoming the first timber manufacturer to do so.

The Code for Construction Product Information says product information should be clear, accurate, up to date, accessible and unambiguous. To conform, companies must not use misleading words to describe their products or make performance claims that can’t be backed up by independent accreditation.

Director of Roof Systems Stuart Nicholson explains: “We take a great deal of care and pride in producing a high-quality, safe product that contractors can truly rely on. Gaining CCPI accreditation was the logical next step for us.”

Legislating for safety

In the wake of the Grenfell tower tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt’s review found the current system of building regulations were not fit for purpose, and that a “culture change was needed” to support the delivery of safe buildings.

In response, the Construction Products Association (CPA) developed the CCPI, which is designed to drive higher standards in the presentation of construction product information in the manufacturing industry so that users can better understand and trust the claims being made about the products they choose.

Stuart says: “Marley was one of the companies who were part of the CPA’s Marketing Integrity Group. We were heavily involved in the creation of the Code to begin with and felt strongly that it was the right thing to do. The whole construction industry has to play its part in self-legislating and being more transparent.”

Once Marley had decided to have its products checked and accredited by the CCPI, it made sense to start with its JB Red roofing batten range, as Stuart explains: “We appreciate how crucial timber battens are for roofing contractors while working at height. We’re proud of what we’ve produced and as a safety critical element it was a logical choice.”

Do your due diligence

Although Marley had begun this CCPI accreditation process before the UK market began to see large volumes of counterfeit battens, Stuart hopes that having CCPI accreditation for its batten range will help raise awareness of this issue and encourage merchants and contractors to carry out their own due diligence on the products they choose.

“The biggest issue that worries us about non-conforming battens is that contractors believe they have been checked, verified and are safe to use, but unfortunately a lot haven’t – and certainly not to BS 5534 standards,” Stuart says. “A lot of builders’ merchants will import a supposedly BS 5534 conforming batten, but don’t carry out checks when the product arrives.

“We would urge them to do their due diligence and check the stock when it arrives to make sure they’re getting the value and quality they’re paying for and selling on to their customers.”

Gaining CCPI accreditation

The process for gaining CCPI accreditation for a product range is a thorough one, as CCPI inspectors carry out a complete audit of the business and its processes, as well as its website and the marketing that surrounds that particular product range.

For Marley, that meant examining and ensuring there were processes in place related to its BIM data, training, and making sure that the people who work for the company are competent to give customers the correct advice surrounding the uses and applications that Marley products can be specified for.

Then, the audit examines the company’s use of language and its entire suite of marketing collateral, to ascertain that Marley’s JB Red battens can do what Marley claims they can.

Stuart explains: “You can’t just say that a product is ‘eco-friendly’ anymore, because ‘ eco-friendly’ is an ambiguous word that can’t be exactly quantified.

“To get CCPI accreditation we had to be able to back up our product claims and substantiate them, ideally through third-party accreditation. We already held BBA certification for our battens so that definitely helped.”

Other checks carried out by the CCPI auditors included questionnaires being sent out to employees across the business to gain feedback on areas such as management policies and whether there is a whistle blowing policy in place.

Stuart continues: “The CCPI checks examine everything from literature, blogs, the website and packaging, all to make sure we aren’t making claims that can’t be backed up. They were incredibly thorough and that gives us confidence in the Code and anyone else who goes through the same process for their products.

“Once the audit was complete we were delighted to receive CCPI accreditation and in time we hope to go through the same process with all our product ranges.”

Marley’s team carries out its own thorough checks right through the batten manufacturing process, which starts from the moment the raw timber material arrives at the yard.

Marley Quality Manager Jenni Forrest says: “All our timber is fully quality checked by the unloading team, then we plan the material rotations so the timber is not left in storage for a long time.

“During production, our Goldeneye scanner is programmed to check for all the main defects identified by BS 5534, and we do regular visual checks for discolouration and the slope of grain every hour as well. Then the batten is checked again once it has been cut on the moulder, during the treatment process and again before it’s sent out.”

A voluntary step

The CCPI is currently a voluntary accreditation, and while manufacturers across the industry are being encouraged to sign up, they cannot currently be forced to do so.

However, as the construction industry continues to improve its processes in response to the findings of the Hackitt report, there is every chance that the CCPI could become mandatory in the not-too-distant future.

Stuart concludes: “The good thing about the Code is that it helps us strive for perfection in everything we do. The more clear and transparent we can make our products, the easier it will be to help our customers make better, safer choices.”