EN 954-1 and the role of standards makers and legislators

05 October 2009

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If you saw the Newsflashes on 15 and 29 September 2009 you will be aware of the situation regarding EN 954-1. For the benefit of those who have not seen the Newsflashes, I will summarise by saying that CEN (the European Committee for Standardization) first announced that EN 954-1 would NOT be withdrawn at the end of 2009, which would have enabled machine builders to use this standard to claim a presumption of conformity to the new Machinery Directive until the end of 2012. Within a matter of days, however, this decision had been reversed, and the situation currently is that EN 954-1 will be withdrawn at the end of 2009 as originally planned.

The EC machinery Working Group is due to meet in early December, at which point a final decision will be made. Depending on the views expressed to the Working Group by industry experts currently being consulted, and the decision made on 7 or 8 December, it therefore remains possible that EN 954-1 will once again be reprieved or there could even be a partial reprieve - perhaps enabling machine builders to work with the Type C standards that still reference EN 954-1 rather than EN ISO 13849-1. Having said that, if the original timescales were deemed sufficient for machine builders and component supplier to adapt, it is a pity that the standards makers seem to have found the timescales insufficient.

I would hope that all this last-minute decision-making and mind-changing is being done with the best of intentions, but machine builders who are endeavouring to run businesses and comply with the 'current' standards will surely have lost some faith in the overall 'standards system' - though in this case it seems that the problems have arisen with the legislators (politicians) rather than the standards makers. Nevertheless, identifying who is to blame will be of little comfort to the people who are suffering as a result of the apparently shambolic situation.

While there have been accusations levelled at commercial organisations that might be seen to have a vested interest in one standard or the other being 'the one to use,' the consensus seems to be that what we have here is a 'cock up' rather than a conspiracy. Someone I spoke to from a standards committee had tried to find out what had gone wrong, but had been thwarted by the lack of a paper trail. Considering the impact these decisions can have on the profitability - or potentially the solvency - of businesses, this lack of traceability and accountability seems, in itself, somewhat disturbing.

So as we approach the deadline of 29 December 2009 for the new Machinery Directive, it appears that machine builders will have approximately three weeks between the final decision being made on the future of EN 954-1 and delivering machines that comply with either EN 954-1 or EN ISO 13849-1. Do the legislators really think that machines can be designed, built and CE marked in three weeks? Legislators and politicians are often accused of failing to be in touch with 'the real world' and the shambles surrounding EN 954-1 seems to be a good illustration of this point.

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Jon Severn, Editor, .

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