Security market analyst

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Hunter Seymour is a security market analyst with expertise in both the fire and security markets.
February 3, 2021

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Brexit and certification

Opening moves in new UKCA marking scheme face challenging timelines for fire and security markets

Speaking to a variety of sources, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Fire Industry Association (FIA), British Security Industry Association (BSIA) and the European Fire and Security Group (EFSG), Hunter Seymour assesses the impact of the new UKCA marking scheme – replacing CE marking in the UK following Brexit  – on the fire and security sectors.

It’s a truism that those who attempt to play copycat chess, by simply mirroring symmetrically each move of their opponent, will very soon learn to their disadvantage that this stratagem results in a trap, and one side is likely to lose after very few moves. This particular gameplay in some ways reflects the current phase of the UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking initiative that signals the end of recognition of the CE (Conformité Européene) mark in Great Britain and the start of the new, post-Brexit, assessment scheme by UK-appointed ‘Approved Bodies’.

Conversely, the UKCA mark will not be recognised in the EU, so the impact of Brexit on product certification is also measured by the fact that UK Notified Bodies relinquished their status as EU Notified Bodies at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. This has meant manufacturers who did not transfer their CE certification to an EU-based Notified Body before 2021 will now have to ensure their products are recertified by an EU-based notified body after 1 January – a process that is time consuming and entails significant additional costs.

Brexit-Chess-UKCA-21

For both parties, then (the UK seeking CE certification in the EU and the EU seeking UKCA conformity in the UK) time is of the essence. Yet, for many manufacturers the lack of time afforded to fulfil their regulatory obligations remains a critical issue of contention.

£3 billion fire and security markets under threat

To understand the background to these concerns, the reasoned submission to the UK government from the FIA and the BSIA in 2020 makes clear the perceived inadequacy of the timelines for the proposed implementation of the UKCA mark and the major impact it is predicted to have on both the fire and security sectors.

The arguments are persuasive. Primarily, a reciprocal agreement is requested to accept the EU CPR certification alongside the UKCA mark. Should a reciprocal agreement not be acceptable, the FIA and BSIA propose that, where EU and UK requirements remain the same, the specified 12 months’ timeline should be extended to a minimum of 36 months to allow sufficient time for manufacturers to prepare and apply the UKCA mark. This waiver would include goods which have been assessed by an EU recognised Notified Body.

There is thoughtful logic in many of these submissions. In addition, agreement is sought for UKCA Approved Bodies – formerly EU Notified Bodies – to accept the product test reports from current EU Notified Bodies without the need to retest or certify.

In the light of the COVID-19 crisis, related social issues were also raised. Manufacturers who decide the UKCA mark is an unviable business decision could leave sites such as hospitals or schools with fire and security systems unsupported and unserviceable, an ambiguity of outcome that could have grave implications.

FIA and BSIA conclude that ‘dual’ product certification will cause major disruption to companies trading across the UK, EU and global markets, threatening a combined UK fire and security market valued at around £3 billion that plays a vital part in national safety and security.

Government rejects UKCA timeline extension requests

In late December 2020, Paul Scully MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for BEIS responded: “…the Government has been clear that we cannot indefinitely accept EU certification and CE marked goods on the market in Great Britain on a non-reciprocal basis beyond the end of the Transition Period on 31 December 2020 . . . it is our priority that the UK regains its regulatory autonomy.”

Continuing uncertainty? 

In response to the latest government pronouncements, informed opinion from industry leaders allows us to see these issues put into perspective against the wider picture. It may be remembered that Graham Orme of BRE (Building Research Establishment) and former chairman of EFSG (European Fire and Security Group) in early 2019, here in an IFSEC Global article on the impact of Brexit, warned then how it was “creating uncertainty for all businesses that are involved in or rely on trade between the EU and UK and CE marking of products… inevitably impacting manufacturers’ resources in terms of bringing new products to market.”

In the face of such uncertainty, BRE has assured its continuity as an EU-based Notified Body by setting up a Notified Body facility in the Republic of Ireland. Similarly, the UK’s BSI – the world’s first national standards body – has been designated as a Notified Body in the Netherlands. Intertek, too, is established in both the UK and mainland Europe.

Cooperation agreements can ease transition

In June last year, in succession to Graham Orme, Guillaume Savornin became chairman of EFSG (the group representing BRE, VdS, CNPP, AFNOR, DBI, SBSC and ANPI as certifiers of fire detection and alarm systems). The very latest comment has been sought from EFSG for its views on the way forward for 2021.

EFSG comments: “Every UK based certification body which had Notified Body status prior to 1 January 2021 was offered the chance to become an Approved Body, and it’s understood that most operating within the fire industry have done so. The UK Government has provided a list of Conformity Assessment Bodies with Approved Body status.”

Fire industry manufacturers will find, when searching the list under the CPR (Construction Products Regulation) and then reviewing the links to the UKAS schedules for those accredited to EN 54 standards, a small number of organisations are identified.

EFSG continues: “As the UK has adopted the requirements of the CE marking directives and regulations into UK law as the basis for the new UKCA, the process of transferring a CoP (Constancy of Performance) certificate to the equivalent certificate to support UKCA marking is relatively straightforward. The Approved Body is required to check the supporting evidence, i.e. a test report from the test authority, product documentation and the requirements for ongoing surveillance that must be fulfilled.

“EFSG supports an extension to the 1 January 2022 deadline after which CE marks will no longer be recognised in the UK. The organisations with Approved Body status are gearing to cope with the increase in demand that is expected as the deadline draws near. EFSG advice to manufacturers is to submit their applications as soon as possible – UKCA certificates can be obtained now so there is no need to leave them to the last minute before the deadline expires. Manufacturers working with EFSG members based in the EU can take advantage of the cooperation agreements that are currently in place with BRE Global Ltd.”

Avoiding a ‘last minute scramble’ for UKCA Certification

To summarise: Businesses are encouraged to be ready for full implementation of the new UK regime as soon as possible after 1 January 2021. Even accepting that there is a one-year period where both the UKCA or CE mark will be accepted for products shipped before 1 January 2021, businesses must start planning for the time when the UKCA mark will entirely replace the CE mark at the end of 2021.

Beware of leaving this recertification process too late because, following your further revalidation of tests, there is always the possibility of successive re-testing, causing backlogs, and pre-booked lab schedules can be unforgiving with delays hampering your path to rapid UKCA fulfilment.

The new marking process means that any product intended for both the UK and EU markets will require two DoC (Declaration of Conformity) documents, listing each set of standards, British and EU.

A challenge too far? FIA and the impact of UKCA

The FIA continues to emphasise the need for an extension, noting the strenuous pressure that is falling upon manufacturers in a critical life safety sector. The latest statement from the FIA UKCA Special Interest Group, reads:

“We, at the FIA, have been in constant communication with the government over the last year voicing the concerns of the fire safety industry on the impact of implementing the new UKCA mark. Thus far, we have sent several letters to Governmental departments and have voiced our concerns at many meetings with Government.

“Our members are extremely concerned that the 12-month transition period is too short but our requests to the Government for a longer period have, so far, been rejected by the UK minister involved.  We suspect that the time and costs involved in the reapproval of all the Fire Protection products (which are presumed to require full third-party certification by the new UK Approved Bodies) has been underestimated by the Government and it is inevitable that many products will be withdrawn from the UK market before January 2022 unless a practical solution/compromise can be found. 

“Unfortunately, the perception of the Government’s advice seems to focus on the challenge of organising the relabelling of the products (a further 12 months is permitted for temporary labelling to be used). However, the UKCA mark on each product demands supporting Declarations, underpinned by comprehensive technical evidence. For many regulations (such as the Electro Magnetic Compatibility and Low Voltage Directives) “self-declaration” is the route to compliance and even then a 12-month transition period is tight. However, Fire Protection Equipment falls under the Construction Product Regulations (CPR) and, in accordance with EU law, has to be assessed by a third party. This regulation has been adopted and amended by Statutory Instrument 465:2019 without sufficient clarity as to the level of assessment expected before applying a UKCA mark. 

“As a result, our members and the wider industry are confused and concerned by the range of quotes and guidance they are getting from the new UK Approved Bodies; particularly in relation to the recognition of certificates and test reports from EU based test houses and approval agencies. These certificates/reports address product performance in terms of initial testing and assessing the Factory Process Control used to ensure ongoing conformity to a standard and are as relevant for the UKCA mark as they are the CE mark.

“To reiterate, our members are unsure of the process that they will need to operate in line with this new UKCA regime. However, it is undisputable that implementing dual or re-certification, especially within a 12-month period, will burden UK businesses with additional costs, while adding no value or quality to the product at a time when businesses are already stretched with Brexit and COVID-19.

“A 12-month window is simply a challenge too far because the details of what is expected for UKCA marking of third party approved products are not clear. It is vitally important that the Government understands the impact of the new UKCA regime; not only for businesses from the fire industry but for the thousands of building owners that rely on their products and services to ensure the safety of their buildings and their occupants.”

A ‘can-do’ approach: Innovate, export and excel

Carl Hunter, OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics Limited

Carl Hunter, OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics Limited, adds a UK manufacturer’s unique insight into the current UKCA debate: “Coltraco exports 89% of our manufactured output to 120 countries. UKCA is a national opportunity to restore global leadership in health, safety, and environmental protection standards from a distinguished era that has now passed. Since then, the CE mark has become perfunctory and a far distance from the aim of any great British manufacturer, which is customarily determined to design, manufacture, certify and export high efficiency quality finished goods, fit to function because they have safety, health, and environmental criteria at their heart.

“We face the reality that the global marketplace is a harsh one, and without the basis of CE will not succeed, so the UKCA mark has the opportunity to exceed the standards of CE, in the same way that the UK Kitemark achieved its undoubted superior status.

“There is every reason why UK manufacturers should surely design their goods with UKCA and CE in mind, and any other international certification that enhances their export success, as part of their will to succeed, in every country comprising their respective domestic and export markets. The cost to certify to meet CE by an EU recognised notified authority would be fractional and no different from what overseas manufacturers, from Japan to the USA, have to do in any case to export to the EU. At the very least, UK exporters to EU customers will have to satisfy the product standards within the EU, as UK exporters already satisfy national standards to reach any non-EU export market. So, they will have to maintain the standards that generate the CE mark to service EU export opportunities.

“UK manufacturers resisting change to UKCA under UK law risk breaking their own laws, which would be pointless and improbable, and they would do far better to place greater attention on their duty to innovate, export and excel. This country defined ’better’ long before we diluted it through CE. The Kitemark was a UK product and service quality trademark which was owned and operated by the British Standards Institution (BSI Group). The Kitemark was most frequently used to identify products where safety is paramount, but its use with UKCA could combine into something that becomes globally recognised as symbolising British excellence. Such a dual concept should be actively pursued.”

Dual marking? A reality check

With regard to future use of markings in the UK, from 1 January 2022, the CE marking will not be recognised in Great Britain for areas covered by the UKCA marking guidance. However, a product bearing the CE marking would still be valid for sale in the UK so long as it was also UKCA marked and complied with the relevant UK rules.

Conversely, however, UK Government guidance appears to counsel caution when UK-manufactured goods are placed on the EU market: “You must only use the CE marking to show the product’s conformity with the relevant directives. You must not place any marking or sign that may misconstrue the meaning or form of the CE marking to third parties.”

UK exporters to the EU, therefore, should avoid inviting EU enforcing authorities to reject products bearing additional marks not regarded as solely relevant to EU conformity, as misapprehensions can arise with the possible penalty of costly delays to your consignments by over-zealous border officials.

Further government guidance is available here:

Keep an eye on IFSEC Global for the latest on the UKCA-CE certification debate. Please feel free to voice your experiences and perspectives on the issue in the comments section, below.

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