Another case was rather different. The first of a series of cargos of steel plate from Finland was to be discharged from the ship but it was found that the space between packs of plate was too small to allow access for the standard plate clamps available in the UK. The result had been an expensive delay in discharging the cargo. Enquiries revealed that it had been loaded using Finnish made plate clamps with a shallower profile. The obvious solution for the next cargo was to obtain these clamps. They were apparently of a proven design and manufactured by a reputable company. Once again there was no reason to doubt their quality.

In both these cases, the problem for the employers in the UK was whether they had adequate evidence that the equipment complied with legal requirements. And whilst confidence in the quality of an item of lifting equipment may be comforting, unfortunately it does not provide the evidence required by prevailing legislation in the European Union.

Both the lifting beam and the plate clamps fall within the definition of a lifting accessory. Although they are not strictly machines, they are nevertheless covered by the EU Machinery Directive 98/37/EC. The technical requirements are not particularly onerous and reputable manufacturers should have little problem in complying. However, there are some procedural requirements to consider. These include the requirement to issue a declaration of conformity and affix the CE marking, both of which are unequivocal claims of compliance with the essential health and safety requirements. To justify doing so, the manufacturer must have available the evidence to back up the claim, in the form of the ingredients of a technical file.

The technical file should include a drawing of the item, accompanied by any calculations, test results and such other data as may be required to check that the item conforms with the essential health and safety requirements. It should also contain a list of the essential health and safety requirements and the standards or other technical specifications which were used when the item was designed, as well as a description of methods adopted to eliminate hazards presented by the item. For series manufacture, there must be available documentation in respect of the internal measures implemented to ensure that all the items produced conform. The file should also include a copy of the instructions. There are some detailed requirements as to what these should contain, including one which specifies they be translated into the language of the country where the equipment is to be used. Responsibility for this translation can be transferred to whoever imports the equipment. As well as covering the correct method of use, the instructions should also warn against foreseeable misuse. It is therefore clear that complying with these aspects of the legislation is not something to be undertaken lightly. Nor is it without cost.

The use of the equipment is also governed by the Use of Work Equipment Directive. This effectively includes a duty on employers to ensure that the equipment complies with the design and construction requirements of the Machinery Directive, thereby linking the two. So from the UK employer’s point of view (and this applies everywhere else in the EU) the declaration of conformity and the CE marking are the vital evidence needed by the employer. With them comes the need for instructions in the local language. Where the manufacturer is outside of the EU and hasn’t got an agent within the EU, all the responsibility is likely to fall on the importer. Clearly this can be quite onerous.

For the manufacturer who has a regular trade exporting into the EU, the cost of compliance is soon justified as, once done, no further action is needed until the product or instructions change. However, for the infrequent or first time exporter, unfamiliar with the EU legislation, it can present a considerable obstacle to trade, causing delays and incurring additional costs.

It is perhaps ironic that directives aimed at removing technical barriers to trade within the EU can put up a barrier to the outside world, however temporary. Happily in both the cases described above a dialogue and mutual cooperation between the parties involved seems to be bearing fruit. For others the lesson is clear: plan a little further ahead and avoid the headaches that can be caused by these particular types of international transaction.