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CE marking

15 October 2008

Keith Wilson - Technical consultant

We’re all quite used to seeing test instruments and other products that carry the CE mark – more correctly referred to as the CE Marking – but what exactly does it mean? Many people have the idea that it is some kind of quality mark, but this is entirely wrong!

The CE Marking on a product is nothing more or less than the manufacturer’s declaration that the product complies with the essential requirements of the relevant European health, safety and environmental protection legislation. This compliance is usually achieved by meeting the requirements of the appropriate Product Directives.

The principal purpose of the CE Marking is to indicate to government officials that the product bearing it may be legally placed on the market in EU countries.

With these points in mind, there are a couple of things to note. The first is that CE Marking says nothing about quality. It would be perfectly possible to manufacture a product that complied with the appropriate European Directives, but was of poor build quality. The manufacturer of such a product would be legally entitled to affix the CE Marking.

The second point worthy of note is the CE Marking is a manufacturer’s declaration of compliance. In other words, you only have manufacturer’s word for it that the product is compliant.

Certainly, the authorities have the power to investigate the CE Marking of a product and call upon the manufacturer or supplier to justify its use. In practice, however, this enforcement is almost invariably event driven, which means that CE Marking is only investigated if a complaint is made, or if the product reveals itself to be dangerous by, for example, causing an accident. That should not be taken to mean that fraudulent use of the CE Marking is widespread – it’s more likely that a supplier may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the requirements, and believes that a product is compliant with the relevant directives when, in fact, it isn’t.

What are the implications of these points for buyers of test equipment? The first is that health and safety legislation places on the buyer the onus of ensuring that the equipment is safe and fit for purpose. It is simply not acceptable to rely on the CE Marking as evidence of this.

Buyers should always investigate further and, if necessary, seek assurances from their supplier that the equipment meets the latest versions of the relevant directives and standards, and that copies of test certificates to verify this can be produced on request.

The second point is that, contrary to intuition, the absence of the CE Marking on a product should not be taken to imply that it is of low or questionable quality. Much equipment primarily intended for use outside Europe carries no CE Marking. The quality of the equipment may be superb, but it carries no CE Marking simply because there is no reason why it should!

CE Marking is not, and was never intended to be an indicator of quality. Buyers of test equipment should, therefore, should always seek from their suppliers more appropriate means.