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‘Business as usual’ after Brexit

Author : Ron Sinclair MBE

15 August 2016

Thorsten Arnhold, chair of the IECEx System, gave a very fair summary in his article last month of why the international acceptance of IECEx Certification should transcend any issues related to ATEX that might arise as a result of the vote in the UK to leave the European Union. I fully support everything he said.

In the longer term, there is a suggestion that an IECEx Certificate could be used to support the ATEX Declaration of Conformity to satisfy the legal requirement in Europe, rather than the need to issue technically identical, duplicate documentation. After all, most people who understand the system accept that the IECEx documents provide a greater degree of confidence than those issued under ATEX.

Even if the European Commission has put it in writing that under 94/9/EC not all Notified Bodies were fit for purpose, it has at least partially addressed this in 2014/34/EU.  Item 37 of the preamble to the New Legislative Framework states:-

“Experience has shown that the criteria set out in sectoral legislation which conformity assessment bodies have to fulfil to be notified to the Commission are not sufficient to ensure a uniformly high level of performance of notified bodies throughout the Community. It is, however, essential that all notified bodies perform their functions to the same level and under conditions of fair competition. That requires the setting of obligatory requirements for conformity assessment bodies wishing to be notified in order to provide conformity assessment services.”

The “obligatory requirements” were to be formal accreditation by a National Accreditation Body, such as UKAS in the UK. But in the event, to keep all countries on board, this was slightly weakened to allow alternatives, subject to the possibility of a challenge by another member state. I should add that all UK Notified Bodies have been subject to UKAS assessment from the start of notification to 94/9/EC, never mind 2014/34/EU.

I suspect that if all the IECEx Certification Bodies (ExCBs) were based in Europe and subject to the law of a member state, acceptance of IECEx Certificates would happen quite quickly. However, I believe the European Commission is concerned about the legal controls that could be exerted by the EU on any ExCB that was situated outside Europe. Thus although direct acceptance of IECEx Certificates would be an ideal situation for manufacturers, I would guess that we are looking many years ahead before this becomes a reality, if at all.

So what about the short term future? Clearly life would have been a lot simpler if the Brexit vote had gone the other way, but we are where we are. Over the next two (or will it be three?) years, the UK will be negotiating with the EU on how to put most of the existing legislation back in place.

Notified Bodies do not have to be located in the EU. Currently there are three countries outside the EU who have Notified Bodies appointed for ATEX, and each country has a different relationship with the EU:

*  Norway is within the European economic Area (EEA).
*  Switzerland has a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA).
*  Turkey is a member of the European Customs Union (CU). 

I find it inconceivable that the UK would not be able to negotiate the equivalent of at least one of those, so I remain totally confident that the current UK Notified Bodies for ATEX will continue with “business as usual” for the foreseeable future.

Should the unthinkable happen, and negotiations in our sector are not concluded before the date of exit, we must remember that any ATEX Documentation issued right up until that date will retain full validity into the future. And I am sure that if that time does approach, all UK Notified Bodies will have achieved a partnership agreement with another Notified Body in Europe, to allow the technical work to continue in the UK, even if the certificate is actually issued from elsewhere. 

About the author

SGS Baseefa Technical Manager Ron Sinclair MBE is chairman of BSI Committee EXL/31, responsible for the UK input to both European and International standards for Electrical Equipment for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. He is chairman of Cenelec TC31, represents electrical standardisation interests on the European Commission’s ATEX Standing Committee and chairs the IECEx Service Facility Certification Committee.

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