Stay up to the mark
One of the side-effects of Brexit has been the introduction of the UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) mark, which has replaced the CE mark on many electrical products. But what does the change mean? And what should you watch out for? An industry expert helps demystify the product marking maze…
Following Brexit, manufacturers and suppliers have been getting to grips with a number of significant changes to trading arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world.
Now the UK has left the customs union and single market, a new trade deal exists with the EU. Any products entering the UK are now being imported, so importers and traders have new responsibilities, such as having a UK address on products.
Wholesalers and contractors will now need to get used to this new system of regulatory product marking, which has been phased in from January 2021.
For product compliance there is the new UKCA mark for many products like radio equipment, construction products and machinery and electrical products, including cable. Schemes such as EMC and RoHS will also continue.
The future UK approach remains fundamentally the same, based on national regulations, technical standards, test houses, product declarations and marking, and market surveillance.
Other aspects will change, especially for manufacturers and suppliers.
Not a revolution
The new UKCA mark will only be used in Great Britain, i.e. England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland will continue to use the CE mark. The UK remains a part of the European standards system (CEN/CENELEC) whereby new and revised product standards are created. Voluntary certification schemes used for cable, such as BASEC, HAR and LPCB, will be largely unaffected by changes to the regulatory system.
Product compliance is of key importance to everyone in the supply chain for electrical products, including cable and cable accessories. Up until Brexit, the UK used the EU’s CE mark and its related legislation, which for cables includes low voltage or construction products.
There is to be no revolution – the new UKCA marking system is largely the same as the EU system. All product compliance legislation originating in EU practice continues as UK regulations, amended where necessary. All the EU harmonised product standards we are familiar with have become UK designated standards, and UK-based Notified Bodies who test and certify certain products have become UK Approved Bodies. So at the point of Brexit there were no significant changes to the background. However, for manufacturers and suppliers there is work to do in preparing new product documentation and marking.
Regrettably, the UK and the EU were not able to come to an agreement on conformity assessment systems in the trade deal, so these are now separate and duplicated. Many products will need to be retested, depending on where they were tested originally. In some sectors there is limited laboratory capacity, which is raising concerns.
The UKCA mark will soon start to appear on products, labels or packaging, and Declarations of Conformity/Performance for the UK market will be made available to purchasers.
For cable products, the main pieces of legislation applicable are the low voltage directive (LVD) and the construction products regulation (CPR) for products used in buildings. Low voltage requirements will be a UK Declaration of Conformity and the UKCA mark. For CPR, a UK Declaration of Performance and UKCA marking / labelling incorporating the classification information are required.
Time for change
The UKCA mark went live on 1 January 2021. Manufacturers and suppliers will have to fully adopt the new marking on products supplied into the market from 1 January 2022.
During 2021, products carrying the CE mark may continue to be supplied. CE marked products that are already in the supply chain (such as with a wholesaler) may continue to be legally sold and hence used beyond the end of 2021.
Northern Ireland is a special region in the post-Brexit UK and under the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol it remains subject to EU single market rules. Products sold in Northern Ireland will need to continue to carry the CE mark rather than the UKCA mark – any UKCA marking can be ignored. Products already CE marked correctly for the EU market may be freely supplied in Northern Ireland.
Where products need third party testing or certification as part of CE marking, it is possible for manufacturers to use a body based in the UK for this, but in this case an additional ‘UKNI’ indication must go alongside the CE mark and such products are not allowed to be sold on into the EU.
Manufacturers and suppliers serving the EU market must continue to comply with EU requirements, including CE marking, using EU-based test houses where needed. Products bearing only a UKCA mark or the CE plus UKNI mark may not be sold in the EU. Products entering the EU from the UK will therefore be treated identically to those coming from any other country worldwide and will require CE marking.
Looking to the future, changes may occur that result in divergence between UK and EU requirements. The UK and the EU will periodically update legislation, and there is no guarantee that any changes will be matched. New or revised product standards may be published and become officially recognised in the UK or EU systems, possibly at different times. For the present though, things are expected to remain stable for a reasonable period.
BCA’s primary concern is to ensure cable product standards, regulations and trade aspects are workable, robust and strongly upheld in a consistent manner that succeeds through promoting simple navigation for all trading stakeholders.
Times of change offer opportunities to build better processes that deliver better outcomes, and the chance to make changes for the better should never be overlooked. The UK Government is already consulting on how product compliance may be improved.
The BCA is dedicated to promoting best practice, keeping the industry informed and alert to danger, spotting and preventing the ingress of counterfeit or substandard cable and keeping everyone safe.
Ensuring all UK cable is compliant, tested and correctly marked leaves a narrower window for fakes and substandard products. There is now an opportunity for cable manufacturers to secure trading routes and take a tighter hold on quality.
Will products carry multiple marks? Yes, it is likely that many products that are sold across the EU and the UK will carry both CE and UKCA markings, or the CE/UKNI and UKCA markings.
Will it be illegal to supply or use CE marked product in Great Britain after the end of 2021? No, products already in the supply chain (such as with a wholesaler) can continue to be sold. In any case, marking requirements only apply at the point of sale, not when they are used.
Will any products need to be replaced? No, products that are already installed may continue in use.
After the end of 2021, should products carrying a CE mark be rejected? No, as long as it either carries the UKCA mark or has been in the supply chain during 2021.