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24 April 2008

The construction products Directive (CPD) has become one of the great paradoxes of Europe’s single market legislation: it became law more than 17 years ago, and yet most players in Europe’s construction industry, even if they have heard of it, have yet to notice it in their everyday activities.

Conversely, numerous players in the construction products industry have devoted considerable resources over many years in drafting harmonised European specifications (either harmonised standards - hEN0), or for innovative products, European Technical Approval Guidelines (ETAG). At last, with a substantial body of European standards becoming available, the CE marking of construction products can now get underway.

In fact about 50% of the eventual total of 550 product standards expected to become available over the next two years, can now serve as the basis for CE marking.

It comes as something of a surprise therefore that the European Commission has decided, partly on the grounds of its eventual simplification, at this sensitive stage to proceed with a revision of the directive. This, again, is something of a paradox, as most directives are more or less systematically revised every five years, and yet the CPD has barely been touched in the 17 years of its existence.

For its part, FIEC has long since welcomed the adoption and implementation of the CPD and continues to support the principles of the CE marking of construction products. However, concerned the Commission is contemplating a root and branch revision of the text, FIEC, in a recent position paper, warned against any radical overhaul of the present directive.

As far as FIEC is concerned, the underpinning of the quality of products on the one hand, and market confidence in the various systems of marking on the other, will constitute the benchmarks against which the eventual success of the on-going revision of both the so-called “New Approach to Technical Harmonisation”, and also the CPD itself will be judged.

FIEC emphasised that:

• the confusion and misunderstandings over the true meaning and significance of CE marking must be cleared up and the same goes for clarification of the relationship between CE marking and voluntary (third party) marks.

Furthermore, FIEC believes that the use of additional third party certification marks will always be necessary in order to demonstrate:

• compliance of the product with the entire text of the standard (voluntary and harmonised parts); and

• where appropriate, product characteristics not covered by the relevant standard(s); and

• the involvement of third parties, over and above that foreseen for CE marking.

If CE marking is to be useful it should be made clear that it relates exclusively to the harmonised part (Annex ZA) of the standard. Furthermore CE marking must provide all the information about a product’s characteristics as may be required to satisfy customers, and this information must be reliable.

The attestation of conformity procedure laid down in EC decisions must be such that it instils contractors’ confidence in this reliability.

FIEC insists that construction enterprises should never themselves become involved in CE marking activities (e.g. contractor mixed concrete). In particular, the CE marking of custom made products (non-series production) such as doors, windows and staircases, which is of particular concern to craftsmen and SMEs, should remain a possibility but should not be mandatory.

The texts of the various guidance papers should be rationalised and either integrated into the text of the Directive itself or included as annexes in order to arrive at a comprehensive document.

Responsibility and Liability

Clear lines of responsibility (and hence the attachment of liability for any kind of failure by any party to a construction contract) are a fundamental cornerstone of all national construction processes.

Regardless of the source through which the goods are obtained, a contractor’s recourse in the event of their being defective, or unsuitable for their declared purpose is through the organisation that contracted to supply them.

Moreover, in the eyes of the contractor it is exclusively the supplier of the goods that will be held responsible in the event of failures or shortcomings, including responsibility for incorrect labelling or marking by the manufacturer or incorrect manufacturer’s declarations accompanying the CE marking.

This explains why correct and accurate labelling of products as to their declared performances and limitations, is of such fundamental importance.

It is this information, together with the relevant “National Application Documents” that allows specifiers and contractors to determine the suitability of a product for its intended use.

It is impossible to overstress the importance of these apparently simple and obvious facts.       ce

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