Opinion - Conformity in action

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Opinion

Unfortunately only a few professional specifiers, contractors and traders in the electrical sector know about their responsibilities under the Low Voltage Directive and related CE marking. Dr Jeremy Hodge, chief executive of BASEC explains

 

Last year, the European Commission (EC) launched an information campaign to increase awareness of CE marking. Although CE marking has been in place for over 15 years, many people don’t know what it stands for and sometimes assume it is just a label that says it has been made for the European market. Some people erroneously think that it is a quality mark. The EC acknowledged that they needed to boost the visibility and public trust in CE marking by promoting a better understanding behind it and its purpose.

This is particularly important for the importation of electric cable and other professional electrical products into Europe, or their manufacture and distribution within Europe.  The Low Voltage Directive applies to all electrical equipment designed for use with a voltage rating up to 1000V AC or up to 1500V DC.  The CE marking of a cable or other electrical product signals to regulatory authorities and end users that the product is compliant with the Directive, making it eligible to be distributed and sold throughout the EU.

Before a cable manufacturer can sell its products in the EU, the manufacturer must have their product tested, and assemble a technical file detailing the standards, specifications and manufacturing controls they have applied.  If the cable conforms to a European harmonised standard there is a presumption of conformity to the Directive.  The technical file must be held within the EU, so this means that it should be supplied to each importer and held by them.  If based within the EU, the manufacturer holds the technical file.  The technical file must be held for a number of years after the product was last supplied.  Professional specifiers often ask for specific information about a product, which should in most cases be found in the technical file.

In addition, the manufacturer must prepare an EC Declaration of Conformity in the prescribed format, and affix the CE mark to the product or packaging.  Wholesalers and distributors have a duty to ensure that the cable product they supply satisfies safety requirements and that it bears the CE marking.  By affixing the CE marking on a product, a manufacturer is declaring conformity with all relevant legal requirements, for example the health and safety requirements of the applicable Directive.  Purchasers may request a copy of the EC Declaration of Conformity. Many cable manufacturers hold EC Declarations of Conformity on their websites for download.

Unfortunately non-conformity abuse and counterfeiting of the CE mark on cable has been found across Europe.  Many organisations do not hold the required documentation.  Some products may be CE marked but the manufacturer has not performed the required testing or safety assessment – ask for the EC Declaration of Conformity if in doubt and check it contains the right information.  When buying pre-cut lengths of cable, such as larger armoured cables, any product supplied should be CE marked on delivery packaging or on the product, and the EC Declaration of Conformity should also be made available.

There can be a huge price to pay for a lack of attention to detail. However, to help safeguard against the risk of installing cable which is substandard, contractors should ensure the cable supplied by the distributor is the correctly specified cable and check the markings on the cable and on the packaging.

When assessing cable markings look in particular for a recognisable or known manufacturer’s identification, so if there is a problem it will be possible to trace the cable back through the supply chain. Without a manufacturer’s stamp it is nearly impossible to trace the cable, therefore never accept cable with no markings. For peace of mind, you should also insist on an independent third-party approved cable such as Basec or HAR marked. It is also important to specify on your order the relevant standard number the cable should conform to.