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Counting the cost of change

08 September 2011

What’s in a number? The answer could be several hundred thousands of pounds.

The European Commission have brought forward something known as the “New Legislative Framework” (NLF). I believe that the general thrust behind it is good, but one of the proposed side effects is bad and could cost users a lot of money.

There are ten “New Approach” Directives being affected by this NLF. ATEX is in the pack, along with Machinery, LVD, EMC, PED, etc. The Commission has been concerned for some time that these directives are all written to achieve similar ends in their own technical spheres, but that the language and the details of the conformity processes diverge unnecessarily. They are absolutely correct. As a simple example, we all use and understand the term “Technical File” and have taken it on board, even for directives such as ATEX where the term does not appear. (ATEX uses the word “Dossier”.)

We can all benefit from the use of the same term to mean the same thing, and we can all benefit from having identical processes, where possible, for similar activities. In practice, although a fair bit of the language elsewhere will change, there are absolutely no proposals to change any of the technical requirements in the Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSRs) outlined in Annex II of 94/9/EC.

Details of the Conformity Assessment Modules will be adapted to the new standardised language but, in practice, there are no real differences proposed. Equipment currently needing certification from a Notified Body will still need certification and equipment currently covered by Internal Control of Production will still be able to be put on the market without any intervention by a Notified Body.

The one area where there is a significant difference is in the procedure for assessing and appointing Notified Bodies. Although basic principles have appeared in the directive since it was first published, they are quite brief and subject to varying interpretation in the different countries within the EU and EFTA.

And we must not forget that most of these directives apply throughout the whole of the European Economic area, not just the EU, otherwise we would not have, for example, Swiss and Norwegian Notified Bodies. I am, therefore, pleased that these rules are being tightened and that, effectively, it will now be a requirement that any Notified Body must also have accreditation from an appropriate accreditor (such as UKAS in the UK) for the activity.

In moving in this direction, the Commission at last seem to be getting to grips with some of the reasons that the ATEX Directive does not give such a good guarantee of conformity as the international IECEx System.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen the Commission grasping the nettle of the UNECE recommendations and looking at the possibility of giving IECEx documentation an acceptable status within the ATEX Directive. Politically, it would be a large leap to make, and possibly one that will only be acceptable once there is any sign of a similar move on the other side of the Atlantic.

But why the question at the head of this article?
The ATEX Directive has been amended previously, albeit not to the extent proposed by the NLF, without a change in its number. But on this occasion, the Commission have said that they propose to change the number of each of the directives affected by the NLF. If there were any change in the EHSRs or any practical change in the conformity assessment procedure, I could see a rationale behind the decision. But the end result of implementing the NLF for products being placed on the market will be zilch – a big fat zero. Apart from the cost of the number change.

British Committee L/6/10 shadows both the IECEx System and the ATEX Directive, involving the relevant certification bodies and representatives of both manufacturers and users of Ex Equipment. I reported to the meeting in June that at the EU Commission’s Standing Committee Working Group meeting on ATEX we had received a presentation at which it became clear that the commission had not yet thought in any depth about transition issues and the effect of changing the number. The only concession in mitigation of costs was to agree that harmonised standards need not be revised immediately to reflect the change in directive number.

I think this is just playing with the actual costs that will follow from a change in number. L/6/10 has started to collate evidence on possible costs. They fall into several groups. There are those that fall directly on certification bodies in changing all their internal and external documentation and processes. A finger-in-the-wind estimate puts this at about £50k per certification body. Manufacturers may have similar costs and users will need to change purchasing specifications.

This is all before factoring in the costs of changing actual certificates and technical files, which could certainly add several hundred pounds to the bill. A long enough transition period (not yet determined) may mitigate some of the costs but increase others as, for example, training material will need to be changed to refer to both numbers and then a second time to refer only to the new number.

If you have any views on how much a change in number is going to cost you, please contact me at: ron.sinclair@baseefa.com, or Andrew Lunnon at BIS, who represents UK interests at the ATEX Standing Committee, at: andrew.lunnon@bis.gsi.gov.uk.
 
Baseefa’s managing director RON SINCLAIR is chairman of BSI Committee GEL/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 and also responsible for representing electrical standardisation interests at the European Commission’s ATEX Standing Committee. Since January 2009, he has chaired ExTAG, the Test and Assessment Group of the IECEx International Certification Scheme. Ron was awarded an MBE in the 2011 New Year Honours List for services to Certification and Standardisation.

In this regular column for HazardEx, he keeps readers up to date in developments in standards and also aspects of the IECEx Schemes.


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