Plant & Works Engineering
Making sense of the paperwork
Published:  25 February, 2014

It may come as something of a surprise to learn that the most common type of question fielded by Lifting Equipment Engineers Association’s (LEEA) technical officers, concerns not the lifting equipment itself but the paperwork that should accompany it. Denis Hogan, LEEA regional manager - West, reports.

While misunderstandings regarding the legal requirements for documentation may not be as immediately life threatening as the misuse and abuse of products such as cranes, hoists, slings and load lifting attachments, it’s clearly important that everyone concerned is aware of their responsibilities. First and foremost, this will ensure employers stay on the right side of the law. Furthermore, it is fair to say that mistakes and omissions in the documentation provided by a supplier should at least ring a few alarm bells in the buyer’s mind regarding the integrity of the equipment itself.

In the UK, end users and suppliers alike benefit from a stable and well-established regulatory framework for overhead lifting. Most of the relevant legislation has been in place since the 1990s, and provides a sensible and practical basis for safe lifting operations. Despite this, there is still widespread confusion and misunderstanding regarding the paperwork, with the most common misconception the belief that a ‘test certificate’ is needed when new lifting equipment is supplied. Indeed the term is regularly – and erroneously – applied to the documentation that accompanies lifting equipment.

If nothing else, the misuse of the term ‘test certificate’ proves that many in the industry have long memories, as it generally belongs to a bygone era in which every new item of lifting equipment was routinely proof load tested with an overload to prove it could carry the rated SWL (Safe Working Load). Things have moved on and far greater emphasis is now placed on quality control during the manufacturing process. Sampling, non-destructive testing and other techniques have replaced a single (and often meaningless) proof load test. As a result, the ‘test certificate’ has been superseded by the ‘Manufacturer’s Certificate’. Along with the EC Declaration of Conformity and Report of Thorough Examination, it is one of the three key types of document that buyers and suppliers of lifting equipment should concern themselves with. Fortunately, the content required for each of these documents is fairly clear and straightforward.

For the Manufacturer’s Certificate, the information that should be contained within it is listed in, and a compulsory part of, the relevant product standard. Therefore a manufacturer claiming to comply with the product standard must issue the Manufacturer’s Certificate.

The manufacturer must also supply the document required by legislation. In Europe, this means an EC Declaration of Conformity. The requirements for this are contained in the Machinery Directive, the latest version of which came into force in 2009 and is implemented via national legislation in countries throughout Europe. In the UK, this is represented by The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. According to the Machinery Directive, the EC Declaration of Conformity must be produced by the ‘responsible person’. If the item is made in the EEA (European Economic Area), then the responsible person is the manufacturer. However, if it is manufactured outside the EEA, the responsible person is the manufacturer’s authorized representative, or the importer. There are clear and detailed requirements for the content of the Declaration of Conformity, which can all be found in the relevant legislation. The Declaration of Conformity must accompany the item in question, and it should be noted that there will usually be some overlap of the information contained in this and the Manufacturer’s Certificate. Indeed, the manufacturer may choose to combine the two documents. This is perfectly acceptable, provided the information is clear.

The last of the three key documents is the Report of Thorough Examination. The UK requirement for Thorough Examination is found in Regulation 9 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER). Under LOLER, the term thorough examination is used to describe high level, periodic inspection of lifting equipment. It includes any tests deemed necessary as part of the examination, such as functional, electrical, non-destructive and load tests. One of the major changes introduced by LOLER was that a report must be issued following every thorough examination, regardless of whether the equipment is found to be safe or not. Schedule 1 of LOLER clearly specifies the information that a Report of Thorough Examination must contain, but it should be noted that LEEA regularly comes across examples of incomplete reports.

Beyond these three key documents, there may sometimes be contractual requirements on the supplier to issue additional certification. Examples include a Certificate of Test Load Applied, Certificate of Non Destructive Testing, or an EN10204 Certificate of Conformance (sometimes referred to as a mill certificate). However, it should be stressed that these have no direct legal status in relation to lifting equipment, although they may be needed to support the legal requirements for such equipment, for example in the compilation of a technical file.

The problems posed by red tape and bureaucracy are a recurring theme throughout the commercial world. Certainly it’s easy to see how documentation and paperwork can seem a little irrelevant in terms of the overall challenge of ensuring safe and efficient lifting. However, at least as far as lifting equipment is concerned, there is some good news for end users. The first is that the obligations are not unduly onerous. In addition, an effective understanding of the requirements can be a useful tool for buyers charged with the important task of identifying equipment of an appropriate quality for the application in question. In common with so many industrial sectors, the advent of globalisation has brought with it a dramatic rise in the choice of lifting equipment available – much of it at significantly lower price levels than was previously the norm. As a result, and for a non-specialist buyer in particular, it can be very difficult to make considered judgements on the equipment on offer. The EC Declaration of Conformity therefore provides the main, if not only, physical evidence that the equipment complies with the requirements of the Machinery Directive. Furthermore, armed with a sound knowledge of the requirements for documentation, a buyer may be able to draw some important conclusions about the credibility and professionalism of any potential supplier.

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