An area of major concern

Chair of Certass Trade Association Jon Vanstone talks about the impact of UK Conformity Assessment (UKCA) Marking on the construction sector.

With government agreeing to extend its deadline for ending CE mark recognition until January 2023, the industry must give thanks to the work of the Construction Leadership Council and Construction Products Association.

Despite the extension, the situation is urgent and there are several outstanding questions that need to be answered, leading many to believe that a one-year extension is not long enough.

With 3.5 million people in construction, there is a huge number still not aware of the issue, although Glass Times readers should be OK due to recent coverage. To recap: UKCA marking allows the UK to have control over its goods regulations, aimed at ensuring high product safety standards. UKCA replaces CE mark from the EU which has been in operation in the UK for 40 years, although originally termed EC mark.

The extended deadline is the ultimate extension, and so time should be spent solving the problem and working the processes, as opposed to lobbying for further time which we will not be given. Sixteen months will pass quickly and there is a very real likelihood that we will be left with a shortage of certain products on the UK market in January 2023.

The major concern is the lack of capacity and capability of UK certification and testing, with certain product areas only covered in limited form in the UK. Products need to be certified and tested by a UK-based entity and accredited through the UK system, which will involve the retesting of thousands of products at considerable cost – products that have not changed neither physically nor technically.

As the bodies doing the testing are commercial businesses, financial decisions will govern future capacity with areas of limited profit potentially ignored.

We also have a major concern among manufacturers that while the UK players need to move to the new system, this leaves European manufacturers able to place products on the UK market at a competitive advantage. Although in time, if they wish to continue trading in the UK, they will need to undertake the same testing and certification, but this may only lead to further withdrawal of products that some businesses will have grown to rely on.

It is such a shame for the construction industry that the much-talked about Mutual Recognition Agreement was never delivered and the EU position has stated that it will not be revisited. There is talk of short-term licencing to cover issues from the transition, but nothing solid would be evident for some time and we cannot wait for any magic bullets.

We know our glazing industry is seeing issues with specialist glass including solar, laminated, and toughened glass all facing problems. There are also severe concerns over certifying rooflights and new insulation products, and then the additional lengthy process of sealant testing and certification. This leads to our sector being right at the eye of the UKCA storm. The whole situation is worsened by the chemicals issue with UK Reach and the potential restriction on certain chemicals that our sector needs for products.

No matter what the discussions, I do agree that there is a need to ensure that safety and security is a key focus, as is confidence in new products to our market. The new Code for Construction Product Information will help improve this confidence, forming a critical part of the Golden Thread to ensure that the right information is available for buildings and the products that are installed in them.

There is a hard time for the whole construction industry ahead. Such huge changes should always be handled from a viewpoint of developing clear and straightforward practical ways to move from one system to another. However, reality is often far different, and our construction industry, disrupted by so many external influences, is facing a timeline problem we could seriously struggle to meet.