At the round table where all arborist and forestry training institutes operating in Germany gather to discuss developments and issues on a regular basis, the SVLFG, the German health and safety body yesterday announced a stop to training with all non-certified elements of PPE pending further investigations. This will entail an inquest by trading standards to assess whether the requirements made by the European PPE directive 89/686/EEC are being complied with – and should this not be the case where the legal responsibility lies.

Immediately, this decision affects a number of tools used for stationary line work positioning as well as some harnesses manufactured outside of the EU. Reeks of protectionism, you cry. It’s pure vested interest behind that decision, you insinuate. Both of which I would have to disagree with.

One of the things the PPE directive sets out to do is to ensure that end users are provided with sufficient and appropriate information to base their decisions upon whether a device is fit for the intended purpose. It also lays out a system of accountability in case of devices not fulfilling criteria defined during the certification process.

On its web site the British Standards Institution states the following:

What are the benefits of CE marking?

CE marking allows you to sell your product in the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA). By implementing the requirements you may also find that your product is safer and more reliable; therefore reduce the risk of customer dissatisfaction.

The CE mark is a prerequisite to be allowed to sell any PPE into member countries – this, by the way, also applies to sub-components of assemblies.

That’s all fine and dandy, you say, but what about the Zigzag, eh? There is a device that has taken these legislative hurdles, carries a CE mark – and yet I have just sent in a second one with cracks in the top link. In what way does the CE mark make things safer for me in this case? And why would climbing on a non-marked piece of PPE that does not fail be any more dangerous?

Fair points, I have to admit. Yet the case of the Zigzag demonstrates very clearly, whilst of course it would be preferable for a device not to have to be returned, the system of accountability defined by the PPE directive in action: There is a clearly defined manufacturer who informs the end user of the issue, they then define a process for returning faulty units and in a next step, thanks to the traceability of the manufacturing process, the manufacturer is able to localize cause of the issue. DMM’s recent karabiner recall is a further example of this process being put into action.

So why should any of this make marked items safer than non-marked ones? The mark in and of itself is no sure-fire guarantee that issues cannot occur regardless, but it creates a clear framework for who has which obligations in such a situation. With non-marked items, you really just do not know. The lines between the brand, the manufacturer and the developer may be very murky and obscure. Questions such as who is in charge of quality assurance may not be addressed. Who is liable in case of a failure? All of these points need to be answered as part of a submission to achieve type certification to sell into the EU. I am not implying that a manufacturer of a non-marked product may not have addressed all these items in a highly responsible fashion – but, and this is the decisive point, I have no means of knowing.

The ultimate goal should be a push for greater clarity. This is not about generating red tape, rather it is about ensuring that all parties involved, the manufacturer, the notified body, the vendor, the employer and the end user are all aware of and carrying their fair share of the burden of responsibility. The foundation for this is a clear understanding of the design parameters of a piece of equipment, what performance criteria it fulfills and how it was tested.

I therefore believe that the SVLFG’s step to requesting a halt to proceedings is reasonable and timely. It is, after all, not a ban, but an opportunity to assess whether adequate information is being supplied and if not, to address shortcomings. These can be matters as simple as user instructions being supplied in the language of the country the device is being sold into or they may require manufacturers to supply some additional testing documentation and/or information. This would certainly not seem to be rocket science, by any stretch of the imagination!