KANBrief 2/09

Construction products: controversy over the safety requirements in the EU regulation

The Construction Products Directive (CPD) adopted in 1989 may be replaced before the end of the year by a new EU regulation. From an OSH perspective, it is essential that this regulation also contain provisions governing the safety of construction products. An urgent need for action exists in this respect, as has been identifi ed by a KAN study (KAN Report 43, “The safety of construction products and their use" (pdf)) into the safety of construction products which is to appear shortly.

In contrast to other EC New Approach directives, the Construction Products Directive does not contain provisions governing product safety. Construction products may be placed on the market without a risk analysis or special safety precautions. Were it not for other regulations governing this specific issue, for instance, it would still be permissible for cement with a high chromium component (the cause of “mason‘s itch“) to be placed on the market.

The situation was improved indirectly in December 2001 with the adoption of the European General Product Safety Directive (2001/95/ EC, GPSD). This directive sets out that products which may also be used by consumers must not present a risk to safety and health. In the construction sector, this encompasses all products which for example are also available from DIY stores. An essential problem however is that the safety requirements of the General Product Safety Directive are not generally addressed in construction product standards. A key safety defi cit also exists for all construction products which are used solely by trade and industry. These products fall only within the scope of the Construction Products Directive, and do not therefore enjoy additional support from other directives, such as the GPSD.

KAN Report 43 on the safety of construction products

47 standards pursuant to the CPD were reviewed in a KAN Study for whether the product safety provisions contained within them were adequate. Since a construction product is subject to very different safety requirements at different phases of its life cycle, the following phases were considered: manufacture (on the construction site), handling (transport, application, installation), use (corrective and preventive maintenance, inspection) and disposal.

The study concludes that the safety of construction products should primarily be regulated by the Construction Products Directive (or the anticipated new regulation). Only on this statutory basis can product safety requirements also be implemented comprehensively in standards.

Besides calling for this fundamental change, the study contained recommendations including the following:

Construction products: controversy over the safety requirements in the EU regulation SPECIAL

  • Generic standards should be developed for horizontal safety aspects related to contact with construction products (transport, application, disposal, etc.). Reference can readily be made to them during the drafting of product standards, and they would simplify the treatment of OSH aspects for the standards committees.
  • Standards governing construction products should contain an annex listing the hazards relating to the construction product and referring to the sections of the standard dealing with these hazards. This list should be based upon a risk assessment which encompasses all phases of a construction product‘s life cycle.

The EC Construction Products Regulation

KAN has taken up the recommendations of the study and lobbied in the European discussion for OSH to be a more integral part of the new EC Construction Products Regulation. Together with the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers and with the support of the Brussels representative of the German Social Accident Insurance, it has submitted several requests for amendments to the European Parliament. These request that product safety be considered in the basic requirements of Annex I of the planned regulation.

At its first reading in the European Parliament on 23 April 2009, the requested amendments were largely adopted. However, the Council of Ministers currently rejects the basic requirements of Annex I being extended to include product safety requirements. Since the Parliament and the Council are not yet in agreement regarding numerous aspects of the new regulation, the Council of Ministers will probably formulate a common standpoint in the coming months. This can then be adopted by the Parliament, rejected, or replaced by an amended proposal (agreed by an absolute majority of MEPs).

Michael Robert