What does CE marking mean?
We see the letters ‘CE’ appear on many products that are traded in the European Economic Area (EEA), however not all products need to be CE marked, so what do these two letters mean? By placing the CE marking on a product, a manufacturer is declaring, on his sole responsibility, conformity with all of the legal requirements to achieve CE marking. The manufacturer is thus ensuring validity for that product to be sold throughout the EEA.
CE marking does not mean that a product was made in the EEA, but states that the product is assessed before being placed on the market. CE marking is a passport that enables a construction product, irrespective of its origin, to be legally placed on the market of EEA member states. It means the product satisfies the legislative requirements to be sold there indicating that the product is “fit for purpose” and that the manufacturer has checked that the product complies with all relevant essential requirements, for example the technical standard and the health and safety requirements.
It became a legal requirement following the introduction of the Construction Products Regulations (CPR) on the 1st July 2013, for construction products within the scope of harmonised European Standards to carry CE marking if they are to be placed on the market in the UK or Europe. This legal requirement applies to manufacturers, importers, or distributors of affected construction products placed on the market.
What does CE marking deliver?
The aim of the CPR is to remove technical barriers to trade between European Member States for all construction products intended for “permanent incorporation in buildings and civil engineering works”. By technical barriers is meant the multitude of national standards existing within individual European countries, each of which previously referenced different test methods. Under the CPR, new European test methods and the means of measuring these, have been developed and accepted by all countries in the EEA. That is the meaning of a harmonised European Standard.
Before placing a CE mark on a product, the manufacturer will need to have tested and checked conformity to the relevant standard, drawn up and made available the required technical documentation and Declaration of Performance (DOP) and then placed the CE mark in such a way that it is visible and conforms to the appropriate legal format. The DOP ultimately forms part of the proof that the finished structure complies with the Basic Works Requirements which confirms the product in question conforms to the standard under which it is sold and that it has been properly installed, maintained and used for its intended purpose.
CE marking enforcement
The DOP which accompanies the CE mark provides more detailed information about the product and the standard and lists the essential characteristics defined within the applicable harmonised technical specification. This information can be requested at any time by the Market Surveillance Authorities to check that a CE mark has been legitimately placed on a product.
The Construction Products Association has anecdotal evidence of erroneous CE marking of construction products and is trying to collect data on the extent industry is being damaged. So how is enforcement carried out? Enforcement, or market surveillance, is undertaken by nominated public authorities, in the UK the bodies are Trading Standards Services and the Health and Safety Executive.
If an enforcement body finds a product that does not meet CE marking requirements, they will often initially provide an opportunity to ensure it is correctly CE marked. Failure to comply with this will result in the obligation to take the product off the market and the potential for a fine and imprisonment.
The impact of Brexit
Manufacturers have invested a great deal of time and effort to conform to the requirement for the Construction Products Directive and CE mark their product. CE marking is a positive example of work carried out by the EU to remove barriers to trade across Europe. It has been an administrative burden for companies concerned, but now that this work has been carried out to produce the relevant documents and affix the CE marks to their products, is it going to prove to have been a waste of time following the Brexit vote? Not if companies sell into other countries in the EU. Within the UK it will ultimately depend on what settlement the UK negotiates with the EU. If unfettered access to the Single Market is retained, then CE making and the requirements that go with it will most likely remain in force. Should the “Hard Brexit” alternative come to pass, the UK may choose to, or be forced to abandon EU harmonised standards and re-establish British Standards, but it hard to see what real benefit that would bring to both the EU and the UK. It will be a few years before anything happens, if at all, on this front.
In the meantime construction products manufacturers will need to continue to observe the requirements of CE marking and distributors, importers and end users will need to make sure that the product they buy or sell comply with the legal obligations of the Construction Products Regulations. Failure to do so will mean that the proof that the finished structure complies with the Basic Works Requirements that demonstrate the product is properly installed, maintained and used for its intended purpose” will not exist.