CROSS Safety Report
Certification of steel sheet piling
This report is over 2 years old
A Government Agency raises concerns about the authenticity of documents provided for steel sheet piles produced by an overseas manufacturer.
Key Learning Outcomes
For the construction team:
Structural steel should be CE marked and purchased from reputable steel manufacturers who meet the appropriate manufacturing standard
It is good practice to have a quality control procedure in place to inspect incoming steelwork to ensure it meets the required standard
Where a defect is identified in a product covered by a harmonised European Standard, the trading standards department of the local authority should be notified in order that they can investigate and take any necessary action
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A Government Agency received a proposal to use steel sheet piles produced by an overseas manufacturer. To demonstrate compliance with standards, certification was supplied, indicating that these products carried CE marking. The certificates were passed from sub-contractor to main contractor without comment. Only when the documents were examined by Agency staff were concerns raised about their authenticity.
Details on the certificates did not follow the requirements for CE marking of products, namely:
Compliance was quoted with a non-harmonised standard
The assessment was not carried out by a Notified Body
Other supplied detail suggested that this certificate was invalid
The information was passed to a local Trading Standards Office (who has authority to investigate such matters, though they do not necessarily have the expertise and detailed knowledge of construction products). Some technical support was provided by the Government Agency to facilitate the subsequent investigation.
The information was passed to a local Trading Standards Office (who has authority to investigate such matters, though they do not necessarily have the expertise and detailed knowledge of construction products).
The ‘certification company’ was found to be a shell company with no base in the EU, and other information was found to be false. The breach was discovered before the purchase of the sheet piles and as there was no prospect of a prosecution, the investigation was halted.
Details of the case were entered on Trading Standards’ National Database, but it is possible that this situation may recur. One of the lessons learnt was that supply chains must appreciate their responsibility to ensure that they have acted with ‘due care’ and rigorously check product certification.
Expert Panel Comments
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Reports 259, 299, 331, and 284 follow a common theme and reveal a worrying trend. The fact that there are reports concerning different products suggests that these incidents are not rare. Designers and contractors may need to consider as a matter of ensuring structural safety whether to instigate routine testing of any product purchased from a source which is not well known.
CE marking raises issues
The globalisation of material supply and the introduction of CE marking are raising issues about the quality of material received on site. It is clear that CE marking alone may not offer the same level of confidence as quality schemes that have been used historically. CE marking is a standardised method of giving product characteristics against a harmonised EN. It is not a declaration of fitness for purpose in any particular circumstance of use and a reputable product manufacturer's technical information may be more useful if it gives advice on the use of the product in service.
There is confusion over when and if CE marked products need to be used especially in projects which are publicly procured. In fact, CE marking is a significant topic for Public Procurers. A related issue is the readiness of clients, designers, contractors, suppliers and manufacturers for the introduction of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) in July 2013. The Construction Products Regulation (305/2011/EU - CPR) – replacing the Construction Products Directive (89/106/EEC – CPD,) is laying down harmonised conditions for the marketing of construction products.
There is confusion over when and if CE marked products need to be used especially in projects which are publicly procured. In fact, CE marking is a significant topic for Public Procurers.
Also, of concern is whether in the UK the 'market surveillance' required is in place (via Trading Standards Organisations) and that they have the necessary resource and expertise. Detecting forgeries is not easy and in 2010 the UK Department for Business innovation and Skills issued a warning about organisations falsely claiming to be notified bodies which included the following:
‘The Department is aware of some cases where organisations either claim or present themselves so as to appear to be notified bodies (e.g. in websites and in their publicity materials), when they actually hold no such appointments. Such claims are misleading manufacturers and importers into using the services of organisations promoting themselves as notified bodies authorised to undertake conformity assessment and certification process, when in fact, they are not authorised to do so’.
Practical guidance is needed and as an example BCSA has issued some simple, practical advice guidance to its members (memorandum No 193-10) on how to check a CE marked certificate. With their permission it is reproduced below:
‘For most Steelwork Contractors purchasing CE Marked steel sections, bolts and welding consumables is still relatively new. It is therefore important that those ordering and checking goods are able to identify a valid CE Mark. All manufacturers of CE Marked products (steel sections, structural bolts etc.) are required to have an "EC certificate of conformity ‘.
This should be signed by the ‘Notifying body’ and show the specific range of grades & products covered. It is not a blanket certificate for all products. The manufacturer should only be CE marking those products listed on the Certificate. A copy of the certificate can be obtained from the manufacturer or the supplier.
- EC Certificate of Conformity
- The EC Certificate is produced by the Notified Body and should include:
- Name and address of Notified Body
- Name and address of the manufacturer or his agent in the European Union
- Description of the product (type, identification, use…)
- Provisions to which the product conforms
- Particular conditions applicable to the use of the product
- The certificate’s number
- Conditions and period of validity – where applicable
- Name and position of the person empowered to sign the certificate.
The Notified body must be approved by the European Commission and the following website can be used to check this: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/ newapproach/nando/.The manufacturer is also required to produce a "Declaration of conformity”. Once again, a copy can be obtained from the manufacturer or the supplier.’
From the reports and the comments of the CROSS expert panel it would seem that guidance on the confidence given by, and the acceptability of, CE marking and the use of the Construction Products Regulation would be timely.
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