At the start of 2021, amid accounts of delays to imports and exports to and from the UK and many suppliers reporting increased costs and red tape, the UK fire industry also finds itself facing an increasingly challenging environment. Customs delays are likely to affect the supply chain, while immigration restrictions and the recognition of qualifications may impact on the available workforce.
However, it is the conformity assessment of products and the application of CE marks that is causing the most immediate concern. This will be affected both by the trade and cooperation agreement agreed by the UK and European Union and the introduction of the UK’s new Construction Products Regulation to replace the EU CPR.
While the trade and cooperation agreement agreed by the UK and European Union contains no major clauses regarding construction products, the text regarding Technical Barriers to Trade (chapter 4) highlights some key areas which will affect construction products, including passive fire protection products.
The text offers clarity on the Rules of Origin Declaration needed to avoid export tariffs to the EU and the current position regarding standards for tests. The Agreement also makes it clear that the UK has regulatory autonomy, meaning there is no automatic alignment with the EU. While there appears to be no rush to diverge from EU regulation this could happen in future (although BSI currently remains a member of CEN).
The main area of concern is that the agreement does not provide for mutual recognition of conformity assessment or test results. Both the EU/UK could choose to recognise this, but there is no obligation on the parties to do this. Currently, the UK has said it will provide mutual recognition for products manufactured in the EU until 1 January 2022, while the EU has offered no such transition period for UK and EU manufacturers who used UK Notified Bodies (NBs) and Technical Assessment Bodies (TABs) for testing. This is a major concern for the passive fire protection sector as the UK NBs are skilled and active in this area.
The EU requires that conformity assessment must be carried out by a government-designated authority. The UK Government has listed Conformity Assessment Bodies on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) website. This UK Market Conformity Assessment Body List covers both NBs and TABs, making them UK Government appointed bodies for conformity assessment.
Under the UK’s new Construction Products Regulation, harmonised European standards (hENs) are now recognised in the UK as Designated British Standards (dBSs), and will keep the same standard number as previously. Since a CE mark or UKCA is mandatory for products with a hEN or dBS product standard, in these cases a manufacturer either needs a CE mark from an EU Notified Body, or a UKCA from a UK body, dependent upon where it wants to place its goods on the market.
For European Organisation for Technical Assessment (EOTA) route products – the European Technical Assessment (ETA) and CE mark are voluntary according to the EU/EC. Although they may be mandatory within certain member states, as per construction codes – they are not mandatory within the EU/EC framework. Therefore manufacturers don’t necessarily need an ETA/CE mark to place a product on the market. This is especially true in the UK, where it is a voluntary way of showing conformity. PFP systems such as structural steel fire protection and firestopping fit in this space – as there isn’t a hEN or dBS – so CE marking isn’t mandatory.
However, if a manufacturer previously used an ETA/CE mark from a UK Technical Assessment Body (TAB) to show conformity, in either the UK or EU, then they need to do something. EOTA has removed all ETAs from UK NBs and TABs from their website; and from 1 January 2021 only EU NBs/TABs are able to offer CE-marking.
A simplified transfer process for UK ETAs was put in place via UK TABs, and manufacturers should have applied to EOTA to move their ETAs to an EU-27 based TAB. However, EOTA is not a big organisation and currently has around 800 ETAs with transfer paperwork filed. As a result, this process could be prolonged and run well into 2021.
There is nothing to stop a manufacturer placing a material on the market in the UK using an alternative third-party certificate provider, so you don’t need an ETA/CE. However, to place it on the market in the EU, an ETA/CE from an EU TAB is the simplest way to show conformity.
The need for some kind of mutual recognition agreement covering recognition of testing and conformity assessment is clear and the ASFP will continue to call for this as a priority, alongside mutual recognition of qualifications.
Mandatory quality marks?
Proposals within the new Building Safety Bill to create a list of Safety Critical Products and to establish a new Construction Products Regulator within the Office of Products Safety and Standards (a department of BEIS) will further complicate the situation and have a significant impact on the passive fire protection sector.
The Bill is likely to pass into UK Law in 2022 and some two months after this is enacted, the Construction Products clauses will come into effect. These enable the Secretary of State to identify and list Safety Critical Product families. While the Building Safety Bill is clearly about safety, existing EU regulations are aimed at free movement of products and Equivalent Standards, not product safety.
This is likely to impact on regulations and existing product standards (hEN/dBS and ETA/UKTA), and result in a raft of new product standards being drafted and implemented. Consequently, in four or five years’ time, designated safety-critical construction products being placed on the UK market, including passive fire protection products, are likely to be subject to mandatory quality marking and will need to meet additional test requirements.
ASFP will continue to work with the UK Government to ensure that this is delivered, as we firmly believe that this is a route to achieving the required level of performance for passive fire protection products and systems.
For more information, go to www.asfp.org.uk