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Hardwood Association Provides Audit Service for Heat-Treated Pallets, Lumber
NHLA HT Program: National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) has been, and continues to be, intimately involved in the phytosanitary standards for solid wood packaging used for export shipments.

By Staff
Date Posted: 5/1/2006

    The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) has been, and continues to be, intimately involved in the phytosanitary standards for solid wood packaging used for export shipments. NHLA launched its certification program a number of years ago in the early stages of the development of the heat treatment program for solid wood packaging. Today, it has hundreds of customers and close to 20 auditors in the field.

    The NHLA has provided services to the hardwood industry since 1898. With its long tradition and experience running the hardwood grading program in the United States, NHLA offers some unique benefits for those looking to find heat treatment auditing services.

    “We are not newcomers to certification,” said Wayne Tomas, NHLA’s technical director. “Many of our auditors are lumber graders. Some actually teach lumber grading. We try to recruit people with specific industry experience. For example, we have a man in the West Coast who has experience with Alder and taught Alder grading for a number
of years. ”

    Talking about the challenges of working with wood, Wayne said, “Our people deal with the dynamics of wood. You can have two pieces of the same species and size lumber that have different weight and characteristics. You don’t have the same continuity in wood that you have in metals or plastics.”

    Some of NHLA’s inspectors actually conduct lumber grading and heat treatment tests, which help lumber mills reduce cost and be more efficient. NHLA also allows companies to go inactive for a season and then reinstate their certification status. Wayne said, “Customers can treat a bunch of packaging and then go inactive for 3-5 months and send their stamps back in. And they don’t have to pay the monthly fee while they are inactive. I don’t know if other agencies offer that service.”

    Of course, this is not a viable service for those who are actively treating pallets every week. But it works well for those companies that treat wood packaging on a limited basis.

    Wayne added that NHLA members get deep discounts on audit services. He said, “When someone is a member, they get a rate that is very competitive.” By being a NHLA member, companies also get listed on its Web site, which helps packaging users find solution providers.

    NHLA plans to launch a new service soon, which Wayne humorously calls, “Have stamp, will travel.” This new program is targeted at packaging users or manufacturers that have a specialized, occasional need for certification. For example, a company in Minneapolis with a million dollar shipment of crates going to India needs immediate certification. NHLA would fly out an inspector who would audit, certify and stamp the packaging on site. While this service would only be done on big ticket items, it does help companies that have a concern about a load making it through the tricky world of international transit.

    The hardwood lumber industry has run into a few unique issues when it comes to the international phytosanitary standard for solid wood packaging. When shipping bundles of hardwood lumber, most U.S. companies use runners or small blocks that are strapped onto the bottom of a bundle. These runners have grooves cut in them and become part of the load.

    Wayne said, “Although there has been some discrepancy depending on what side of the ocean you are on, effectively once the runner is attached to the bottom of the lumber, it is treated just like a pallet or crate.” NHLA encourages
lumber producers to treat and mark the runners, which has helped avoid problems when loads are destined for international markets.

    NHLA is not part of the fumigation certification program. Wayne said, “We are HT only because we think fumigation will eventually go away and is only a stop gap measure.”  While fumigation has the advantage of being a mobile
solution, it can be expensive and dangerous for those looking to do high volume treating.

    NHLA’s program starts with a free phone consultation. Once a company signs up, NHLA ships out basic Q&A information and a sample process manual. The ALSC requires that each certified treater develop a process manual to detail how the system works at that particular facility, including: keeping HT material separate from rest of the material, logging information, etc. Then an inspector will visit to set up the program. NHLA does not charge for this initial visit except for requiring reimbursement for travel expenses. Once everything is approved, NHLA will then release the stamps to the customer. This process normally takes 2-3 weeks although it can be done faster in some circumstances.

    Reflecting on treatment trends, Wayne said that many companies have opted to treat packaging even when it is not destined for foreign locations. From the beginning he had some customers that were having pallets heat treated because they wanted to kill bugs and the pallets were used for food applications. These loads were never destined for foreign ports. The HT issue raised awareness that this treatment method would help kill pests that were causing a problem in food shipments.

    Established by the hardwood industry in order to have an industry-accepted standard for the grading of hardwood lumber, the NHLA has grown to be the recognized voice in all maters related to hardwoods. NHLA provides services and advice to sawmills, distributors, and users of hardwood lumber. The NHLA also sponsors educational programs that are available to the public and classroom students.

    The association is one of 12 agencies in the U.S. that are approved by the American Lumber Standards Committee to perform mandatory audit reviews of pallet manufacturers and other businesses that heat-treat pallets or lumber — both hardwoods and softwoods.

    Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn. (the ‘hardwood capital of the world’), NHLA is unique as an association. It operates a vocational school to train students to become hardwood lumber inspectors. The school has produced more than 6,300 graduates who work in the hardwood industry throughout the world. The current class has students from the U.S., Canada, Italy, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil.

                To join NHLA or to learn more about the NHLA heat-treatment program, call the association at (901) 377-1818, e-mail info@nhla.com, or visit the Web site at www.nhla.com.

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