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Avoiding ‘banana skins’ in directives

Published: 13 December 2011 - Neil Mead

Despite the way things may sometimes seem, the committees that develop regulations and directives relating to machinery work very hard to make them unambiguous and easy to apply. Nevertheless, in such complex documents, it’s almost impossible to avoid leaving a few ‘banana skins’ for the unwary to slip up on. Paul Laidler of Laidler Associates provides some useful guidance on a selection of regulations and directives.

You have a piece of equipment – let’s be careful at this stage about calling it a ‘machine’ – and you’re thinking about applying CE marking to it and issuing a Declaration of Conformity to confirm compliance with the Machinery Directive. But do you need to do this? Getting to the right answer can be straightforward, but there are cases where it’s not.

Is an electric motor a machine?

Any engineer will tell you an electric motor is a machine. So it seems obvious they should comply with the Machinery Directive. But in fact they don’t need to comply, because a motor is not intended for a “specific application”. For the purposes of the Machinery Directive it is not a machine, as the Directive defines a machine as “An assembly … of linked parts … which are joined together for a specific application.” However if you fit the motor with a pulley it may well fall within the definition of a machine, in which case it will need to comply with the Directive. In all cases, motors have to comply with the requirements of the Low Voltage Directive.

Are gas struts machines?

Gas struts are not machines, even in terms of the Machinery Directive. It might therefore seem safe to assume that they are not covered by the Directive, but once again that would be incorrect! Safety components have been brought within the scope of the latest version of the Machinery Directive, if their malfunction can cause an injury. Gas struts used for example, to support heavy lids fall into this category and must comply.

Are cars machines?

It would seem logical that cars should be considered machines and should comply with the Directive. However the Directive excludes road-going vehicles. However certain types of vehicle – some types of farm tractor, for example – may not be intended for on-road use, and these are covered by the Directive. So if you do not have to tax your vehicle then it will need to carry CE Marking.

What about self-built machines?

If you build a machine yourself to use in your own factory, it’s treated just like any other machine, and it has to comply with the Machinery Directive. The key phrase from the Directive is “placing on the market” which is defined in the Directive as “making available for the first time with a view to distribution or use, whether for reward or free of charge”.

Linking up old machines

Linking together two or more old machines could be a problem, as they then form a “complex assembly” in the terms of the Machinery Directive. The whole assembly must be fully assessed for compliance regardless of the age of the machines. If the documentation for old machines does not exist, they will probably have to be scrapped.

Save money by self-certifying?

The Machinery Directive allows self-certification, but it’s doubtful this will save money. Those who are unfamiliar with the certification and CE marking process may well find it confusing and time consuming, with the result that they spend more money than if they’d used the services of an expert third party. Also there are some types of equipment, defined as dangerous machines, for which self-certification is never acceptable. These are listed in Annex IV of the Machinery Directive.

Machine already has a CE Mark

The end user still needs to check the machine to make sure they are happy it is safe. Regulation 10 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) requires that the end user checks to ensure that any machinery they are buying and/or using complies with all relevant legislation. If an accident happens, the end-user will be prosecuted before the machine builder.

Who’s responsible?

As part of the process of confirming that equipment complies with the Machinery Directive, a technical file must be put together. It can be and often is the manufacturer or supplier of the equipment who does it, but it doesn’t have to be. They are free to appoint an authorised representative, who must be European, such as specialist consultant Laidler Associates, to assemble the technical file and sign the Declaration of Conformity on their behalf. Note, however, that this authorised representative is not necessarily the same as “the person authorised to compile the technical file”, no matter how confusing this may seem. The role of the “person authorised to compile the technical file” is simply to store the file at an address within Europe, and to make its content accessible to anyone with a good reason to see them. It can be the same person or organisation as the authorised representative, but it doesn’t have to be.

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