One of the consequences of BREXIT is the progressive replacement of the ‘CE’ marking of products, indicating conformance with various design and manufacturing specifications with ‘UKCA’ marks. Since at present the UK has adopted existing European Union standards wholesale, this is in some senses a distinction without a difference, but there is always the possibility that rules may diverge in the future.
Quite properly, BEIS, the government department for business and enterprise, has been drafting rules for how products should be marked to give the necessary assurances to those who buy, hire or use relevant items. However, as we explained in a recent meeting with officials from BEIS, there are some problems with the rules as currently proposed.
Essentially, the rules require UKCA markings to be ‘clearly visible, legible and indelible’ on every relevant piece of ‘machinery’ in the scope of the Supply of Machinery (Safety) regulations of 2008. But ‘machinery’ doesn’t only mean large, powered, mechanisms (on which there will almost always be somewhere that UKCA markings can sensibly be applied), but also the broader category of such things as ropes, chains, shackles and other accessories. Legislation, as in this case, tends to be written with complex mechanisms, rather than ancillary equipment, in mind, and this is the core of the issue we have presented to BEIS.
It is worth emphasising that we are not making a case around cost – although there may well be cost implications – but about safety. Indelible marking on items such as forgings or castings may be at best impracticable (because they are hard to apply, or because they would be impossible to view in use) or at worst pose an active risk: stamping or etching marks on a forging may introduce a starting point for a stress fracture, or a site where corrosion may take a hold, especially in aggressive environments such as the off-shore oil and gas industry. Far better, simply in terms of safety, would, we suggest, be to allow UKCA conformance to be demonstrated in the ‘paperwork’, or its electronic equivalent, rather than on the actual item.
The rules inherited from the EU do in fact allow this in some obvious cases: it is clearly not practicable individually to mark Bulk reels of wire rope or drums of chain: the compliance certification relates to the reel from which the cable is taken.
There is an argument, of course, that ‘paperwork’ gets stuffed in a drawer and is never referred to again. However, on receipt of goods and at examination intervals documents need to be reviewed as a means of checking that equipment meets the essential health and safety requirements and has not been modified or altered.
We do have other concerns, which we have put to BEIS. The sector uses products from many foreign companies, who may not perform UKCA marking, leaving UK firms working abroad or re-exporting in a quandary – one that could readily be resolved if the conformance certification resides in the documentation rather than the physical product.
Many of the products we use or produce are in fact too small, or of too complex a shape (radiuses etc), to be directly marked with the logo. And the proposed alternatives, such as ‘permanently affixed’ tags, fail at the first conception of how and in what environments lifting equipment is used – most of them are highly likely to end up as further plastic pollution, on land or at sea.
We firmly believe, and have presented this case to BEIS, that in some circumstances, allowing compliance to be demonstrated and verified through the documentation rather than physically on the item, far from reducing safety standards would improve them. In a well-run organisation, documentation should be readily, and probably digitally, accessible to all those who need to know – and, indeed, without having to access the item itself, which may not be in a safely accessible location. That there are also potential benefits in terms of cost and competitiveness for our domestic suppliers and manufacturers is undeniable, but that is not our main objective in the case we are putting forward – it is all about the safe and secure deployment and use of lifting equipment.
In summary, LEEA aims to eliminate accident and failures of equipment and hence we stand with our members who see the value in appropriate traceability and quality marks. So the Association is behind the government’s new UK conformity requirements but for some cast and forged products it is proving impracticable, and sometimes impossible, to apply the marking directly on the product. So we are basically seeking a concession for these products such that the marking can continue on the documents after the deadlines.
We are pleased that the government has granted an extension to the deadlines to allow for such discussions on marking and to give more time to adapt. For most lifting equipment products, UK conformity marking will be required by the end of 2024 but we can continue to put the UKCA mark on the documents until the end of 2027. We hope that during this period we will be granted a similar concession to that given currently to other products where it is difficult to directly apply the CE mark.
UKCA Marking Guidance
The government intends to introduce legislation which sets out that, in most cases, if your product has been placed on the GB market with a CE mark before 11pm on 31 December 2024, it does not need to be remarked or recertified to UKCA requirements and can continue to circulate on the GB market until it reaches its end user. This also includes where the CE marked product was conformity assessed and certified under EU conformity assessment procedures before 11pm on 31 December 2024.
The government intends to introduce legislation enabling the UKCA marking to be placed on a label affixed to the product or on a document accompanying the product until 11pm on 31 December 2027.
So in essence you will have until the end of 2024 to comply with the conformity requirements and thereafter the marking can appear on the accompanying documents until end of 2027. After this date it is our hope that someone will see sense and we will either get a concession for cast and forged products, or some other solution.