Steel timebomb puts thousands of jobs at risk

UPWARDS of 1000 Scottish companies could be trading illegally from July this year when new EU regulations come into force.

That’s the view of industry expert Geoff Crowley of Highland Galvanizers. He has been at the forefront of efforts to warn of
the impending introduction of CE marking on fabricated steelwork in construction and civil engineering from 1 July.
CE (Conformité Européenne) marking was introduced as a means to prevent EU trans-border trade discrimination in 1988 and is used as a consumer protection device to ensure manufactured goods are made to the same standards across the EU.
Goods such as electronics and toys have had CE marks for many years and the standard is now set to be introduced for fabricated steel.
However, up to 1,700 businesses in the construction and engineering sectors in Scotland are set to be affected by the legislation and only a fraction are aware of the requirement, and even less have undertaken the necessary preparation to apply for accreditation.
With the paperwork and assessments required to meet the CE qualification standards usually taking around six months to complete, the looming 1 July deadline could mean hundreds of Scottish businesses are trading illegally, potentially leading to up to 17,000 Scottish jobs being put at risk.
Organisations procuring large quantities of steel, such as those behind large scale construction projects, are already demanding suppliers be CE accredited, meaning the vast majority of Scottish fabrication businesses will not be eligible to tender for work – and this situation is only going to accelerate as July 1 approaches.
As managing director of one of Scotland’s biggest galvanizing plants, Crowley is appealing to the industry to take the CE issue seriously, while acknowledging the introduction hasn’t been as communicated to companies as comprehensively as it should have been.
“The issue will be that, increasingly, their customers will demand CE qualified suppliers and unqualified companies will quickly find business drying up. The problem is that the industry just hasn’t been informed of this requirement. Some businesses don’t believe it, while some have heard and are ignoring it, hoping it will go away.
“To my knowledge, there are only six companies in Scotland who are already qualified and another 16 or so are working towards it. This is a real problem, as if our customers aren’t prepared for 1 July, we won’t have a business ourselves.”
There is evidence English companies are further ahead than Scottish engineers and the England-based Manufacturing Advisory Service has already been guiding English fabricators through
the accreditation process.
Crowley added, “If Scotland doesn’t start taking this issue seriously, it is likely that businesses will be at a severe disadvantage and English companies will start picking up the work in Scotland.”
Manufacturers must have a Factory Production Control system in place, which must be assessed by a certification body approved by the European Commission.
In Scotland, local authority Trading Standards officers will be responsible for enforcing the implementation of CE marking. Penalties for supplying non-compliant goods could include heavy fines and company bosses could even face jail for up to three months.
While the industry as a whole remains largely uninformed, organisations such as the British Constructional Steelwork Association have been working to shed light on the issue. The BCSA has made CE marking compliance a condition of membership, while the Federation of Small Businesses is also alerting its members to the deadline.
However, those few bodies in the UK are authorised to assess and certify companies seeking CE accreditation – such as the Steel Construction Certification Scheme and The Welding Institute – are under-resourced and already booked up to beyond the deadline.
Crowley said, “A delay to introduction of CE marking is unlikely to be allowed by the EU as the date for introduction has already been extended by 12 months at the request of the German steel industry.
“It is imperative there is some temporary amnesty from prosecution to allow Scottish businesses to be trained, audited and authorised. Otherwise, the effects on Scottish industry could be catastrophic.”