Machinery Directive harmonised standards - a word of caution

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Paul Laidler, the Managing Director of Laidler Associates, recommends caution when deciding which 'harmonised' standards to apply when CE marking machinery in accordance with the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC.

Machinery Directive harmonised standards - a word of cautionAt the end of 2009, a new version of the Machinery Directive came into force but, even now, more than seven months later, there is still a lot of confusion about standards harmonised with this Directive. And that confusion is being made worse by unreliable information from a seemingly impeccable source.

Let us set the scene by starting with a brief overview of the Machinery Directive and harmonised standards. As most visitors to this website will know, the new Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC) came into effect on 29 December 2009. There was no transition period so, from that date, all machinery supplied in the EU had to comply with the new Directive.

The most usual way of demonstrating compliance is to show that the machinery meets the requirements of standards that are harmonised with the Directive. But note that wording carefully; only harmonised standards can be use to demonstrate compliance with the essential health and safety requirements of the machinery directive. Some machine manufacturers, however, seem to have missed this point and are continuing to reference superseded standards that were harmonised with the previous, and now obsolete, directive.

A question of compliance

Clearly these suppliers are leaving themselves wide open to all sorts of legal and regulatory problems, including the possibility of heavy fines for non-compliance with the directive and/or having machinery removed from the market. It is hard, however, not to feel at least a little sympathy for them because, when the new Machinery Directive came into effect, not all of the relevant standards had been harmonised. In fact, at the time of writing, some still have not, and the situation is constantly changing.

How are machine suppliers supposed to keep up with what is going on, and be sure that they reference the correct standards? Fortunately, help is at hand – or so it seems at first. On the website of the European Commission, no less, is a list of standards that are harmonised with the new Machinery Directive. Better still, this list highlights all of the new additions. To see the list, all you need to do it to go to

Now that is a long web address, but I would advise you not to use your favourite search engine to find the list, for reasons that I will explain later. It is actually a long list - of several hundred standards. Before anyone starts to rely on the list, however, despite its apparent usefulness and dependable background, there are a few things they need to know.

Publication delays

The first is that it has no legal standing whatsoever. Only publication of a standard in the Official Journal of the EU has legal status. The list is, in theory, updated from the Official Journal, but there can be a delay between the publication of the Journal and the updating of the list.

Furthermore, users of the list need to know is that there can be delays between a standard being harmonised (as a European EN standard) and being nationalised, which for the UK means being issued as a BS EN standard. This can make the list misleading.

For example, at the time of writing, BS EN ISO 13855, which deals with positioning of safeguards with respect to the approach speeds of parts of the human body, is not shown in the list, even though it is definitely available. Anyone who was not aware of this and relied on the list would, therefore, end up using BS EN 999, which has been superseded by BS EN ISO 13855.

Inconsistent information

The information about some of the standards marked as new is also inconsistent. For example, EN 115-1:2008+A1:2010 (new) and EN 267:2009 (new) are both tagged as first publication. While this is true of EN 267, which is a completely new standard, EN 115 is an amended standard, although this is the first time the amendment has been published.

It does not take much investigation of the list to find other curious anomalies, like those relating to EN 62061:2005, a key standard covering the functional safety of safety-related electrical, electronic and programmable electronic control systems. The list shows this to be a first publication, but the reality is rather more complicated. With the demise of the old Machinery Directive, it was removed from the list of harmonised standards - but now it is back, still dated 2005, and it does not even have an amendment. All that has happened is that a corrigendum has been added to change the Directive number from 98/37/EC (the old Machinery Directive) to 2006/42/EC (the new Machinery Directive). Classing this as 'first publication' seems, therefore, to be stretching the facts more than just a little!

Use the right list

Let us now examine why I advised against the use of search engines to find this list. The answer is that the web page contains not just one list but several. Using a search engine, it would be very easy to follow a link to the wrong list. Indeed, even when simply scrolling down the page, it is quite easy to miss the point at which one list ends and another starts.

Using the wrong list can be very confusing. Staying with the key subject of functional safety, for example, the list that relates to the new directive shows EN ISO 13849-1 as a standard in its own right. In one of the other lists, however, which relates to the previous and now obsolete directive, EN 954-1 is referenced, which is the standard being replaced by EN ISO 13849-1. There is even a footnote explaining that the replacement of EN 954-1 has been delayed until 28 December 2011, whereas the final decision on EN 954-1 was to confirm the presumption of conformity as continuing until 31 December 2011. Those who have not followed every step of this particular saga could easily be confused about the actual situation now.

Now that you have read this article, you may have formed the opinion that I have spent hours or days poring over the list of harmonised standards, searching tirelessly for anomalies and errors. Unfortunately, that is not so; I found the examples I have quoted in less than half an hour, which suggests that there could be many more problems that I have not spotted.

My conclusion, therefore, is that you would be well advised to exercise great caution when using this or any other online lists, even if they appear to come from the most reputable of sources. It is essential to cross-reference lists with, for example, the national standards authority (BSI in the case of the UK) or, if you really have time to kill, with the EU Official Journal.

Alternatively, of course, you may find that you can save a lot of time, money and worry by using the services of a consultant with wide and proven experience in the field of machine safety, standards and compliance, such as Laidler Associates. Whatever your choice, however, always remember that, when it comes to standards, you need to be very careful whom you believe!

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