In this context, regulations is a much misused term. Many of the enquiries I receive come from people whose first language is not English so it is hardly surprising that they don’t always use the term in the same way as I understand it. However the same is all too frequently true of enquiries from the UK. That also applies to the terminology used for documents.

These days, UK industrial law is enacted by what are called Statutory Instruments, each of which is a set of Regulations. Therefore when we use the term ‘regulation’ we mean the legal requirement.

In the wider context of asking what ‘regulation’ applies, using the word ’authority’ makes more sense. It is a broader term which can encompass more than just legal requirements. The law is the highest level of authority, but there are many others below it. International, European and national standards have a high level of authority, as do industry standards and codes of practice. Client or customer requirements are certainly very important, as is company policy within the organisation certifying the lifting equipment.

Many technical enquiries I get start with something along the lines of: “I’ve been told that the regulations have changed and we now have to… Is this true?”

Typically, after making enquiries and getting to the root of the matter, I find that it is only a change of internal company policy. Sometimes the regulations have altered, but not recently. The problem actually stems from someone belatedly catching up on a standard or even legislation which changed several years before.


That brings me to the terminology used for documents. Amongst this, ‘test certificate’ is still widely used to cover almost every situation, however inappropriate.

In Europe, lifting machines and lifting accessories placed on the market for the first time require an EC Declaration of Conformity. This states who the manufacturer is, who is responsible for placing it on the market if it is not the manufacturer, describes the equipment, states that it complies with the European Machinery Directive and any other relevant European Directives, states the standards or technical specifications the equipment complies with, and is signed to authenticate it.

Note that it does not include any information on testing. Effectively it is a declaration that the equipment complies with the essential health and safety requirements contained in the technical annex to the Directive. Complying with those requirements should be sufficient to ensure that the equipment will be safe, subject to following the safe use information and any installation requirements.

The standard, or any other technical specification the equipment complies with, may require further documentation, particularly if it is manufactured to a CEN harmonised standard. This is usually called a Certificate or a Manufacturer’s Certificate and, as well as identifying the manufacturer and the standard, generally includes additional information about the equipment. That information can include the method of verification used and, if proof load testing is one of the options, it might include the amount of load applied. That, for new lifting equipment, is as close to a ‘test certificate’ as a document is required to get these days.

Many new items can be verified by other methods which, if done correctly, are more effective than a proof load test. Current standards adopt these methods but, if a standard is being specified as the authority, it is vital that the standard is complied with in full. A manufacturer cannot pick and choose which parts of a standard to comply with and ignore others without there being consequences. Apart from the fact that it invalidates any claim for compliance with the standard, there is no guarantee that the product will still perform adequately.

wire rope sling

Many standards refer to others and this can involve something of a paper chase. Take for example the European standard for wire rope slings, EN 13414-1. A wire rope sling comprises wire rope, components such as links, hooks, shackles and thimbles, and a method of terminating the wire rope. There are separate standards for each of these items and, in many cases, these in turn call up other standards. Between them they effectively control all the necessary properties of the components, including ultimate tensile strength, fatigue resistance, energy absorption, corrosion resistance, low temperature toughness and dimensional compatibility.


By carrying out the necessary checks and tests at each stage of production, a far better control of the properties of the complete sling is possible than can be achieved by relying upon a single proof load test on the end product.

Proof load testing still has its place in the armoury of verification methods available to a manufacturer, particularly of components. However the load is often applied in a way which is not compatible with testing the complete assembly. This is why it is done at the component manufacturing stage. For example, the manufacturing process for chain involves ‘calibrating’ it by gripping it in precisely shaped jaws and literally stretching each link to the required length. This effectively proof loads it and, in doing so, improves the properties of the chain. However, it cannot be done on the finished sling.

Master links for slings are capable of considerable extension if subject to excessive load. This is an important safety feature as it helps absorb energy and reduce the risk of failure if accidentally subjected to a shock load. When verified by proof load testing, they are placed in test fixtures which support the crowns of the link to prevent them collapsing whilst still imposing the test load on the link weld. Again this is something which cannot easily be done on the finished sling.

The documents issued by the component manufacturers will state what standard they comply with and will become part of the record held by the sling manufacturer. However the certificate issued by the sling manufacturer needs only to identify the sling manufacturer, describe the sling, state the working load limit and the appropriate leg angles and state the standard it is made to (for example, EN 13414-1). The fact that it complies with the standard is an assurance that the sling as a whole and the individual components were verified by whatever is the most appropriate method for each.

Turning now to in-service ‘testing’, the law is again the highest level of authority. In the UK, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) together with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) apply, although neither have a mandatory requirement for proof load testing. What they do require is inspection to ensure the equipment is safe before first use and remains serviceable throughout its life. To distinguish between levels of inspection, LOLER uses the term ‘thorough examination’ for the higher level of inspection required within a maximum period or within an examination scheme.

Thorough examination

The term ‘thorough examination’ does encompass any testing deemed necessary by the examiner. However, testing in this context is not confined to proof load testing. It is a broad term which includes functional tests, non destructive tests, electrical tests etc. Some people still have the mistaken belief that lifting equipment should be periodically proof load tested. However, with some exceptions, it is not normal practice to do so as part of the thorough examination. In fact we actively discourage it unless there is a good reason. Every proof load is an overload and unnecessary repetition effectively shortens the life of the equipment.

The document issued following a thorough examination is called a Report of a Thorough Examination and should include details of any tests carried out.

Standards also play a part in verifying in-service equipment. For example BS 7121-2 – Code of practice for the safe use of cranes – Inspection, testing and examination, is a very authoritative document and contains guidance on all aspects of the subject including testing as part of a thorough examination. It also uses the term ‘testing’ in the broad sense and includes in an informative annex an example of a certificate of test for those occasions when an overload test is appropriate. It is one of the few remaining examples of when a document can correctly be called a test certificate.

Industry codes of practice are also authoritative sources of information and that includes the LEEA Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment (COPSULE) and the User’s Pocket Guide, both of which contain guidance on in-service inspection.

Manufacturers, specialist inspection organisations and large user organisations often have their own documents and check lists, particularly for the more frequent daily and weekly inspections.

In conclusion, I hope that the above illustrates the need to treat the terminology we use with care and to be clear about what is meant. Is the authority in question the law, a standard, a code of practice, or some other specification? Is the document required an EC Declaration of Conformity, a Manufacturer’s Certificate, a Report of Thorough Examination, or genuinely a Test Certificate? When someone next proclaims that the regulations require a test certificate, enquire further and ask what ‘regulations’ they mean and what is the purpose of the document.

About the author

Derrick Bailes is technical consultant (formerly chief executive) for the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association, 3 Osprey Court, Kingfisher Way, Hinchingbrooke Business Park, Huntingdon, PE29 6FN, tel: +44 (0)1480 432 801, email:

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