When a machine is said to be ‘approved’ or meets a particular design standard, sometimes the claim is misleading or irrelevant, but may actually hint at a legal necessity.
Sorting through the maze of compliance systems can be daunting for even the most experienced engineer.
Layers of acts, legislation and regulations form a legal framework; there are Australian and international standards to compare and reference and lastly; a range of ‘authorities’ awarding acronyms, logos and numbers.
Here, Frank Schrever of Pilz Safe Automation presents an overview of the laws, standards and approvals that are relevant to machine safety in Australia. This article is intended as an introduction only and readers are urged to seek their own legal advice.
Australian machine safety laws
In Australia, safety laws are made and enforced by the states and territories. Fortunately, their plant safety laws are in alignment and set out very similar requirements. Each has an umbrella occupational health and safety (OH&S) Act, which sets out the obligations and ‘duty of care’ of different types of people.
Beneath the States' OH&S Acts are the various regulations and codes of practice that apply to different areas of safety. Regulations are legally binding. Among the most important safety regulations in Victoria, for example, are the Plant Regulations, which stipulate the need to identify workplace hazards, assess the risks and, so far as is practicable, control those risks.
Codes of practice, on the other hand, are not usually mandatory, but they are often used by the legal system as a benchmark to determine whether reasonable steps have been taken to make the workplace safe. For this reason, failure to comply with a code of practice can have very serious consequences.
Like codes of practice, Australian Standards, developed by an independent organisation called Standards Australia, are sometimes referenced in a regulation, but are otherwise not legally binding, with some notable exceptions. Again, however, they are often used by courts to test whether reasonable steps have been taken to mitigate risk.
The primary machinery safety standard in Australia, for example, is AS4024.1. Compliance is not mandatory, but provides an excellent defence against claims of negligence, while failure to comply can be damning.
Many Australian Standards are based on international standards, particularly International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), European (EN), British (BS, now often BS EN combined standards) or International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards.
It is Standards Australia's official policy to adopt international standards (ISO or IEC) wherever possible in the interests of international alignment.
Standards from the USA (ANSI Standards), on the other hand, are rarely equivalent to Australian, ISO or EN Standards and are less meaningful in Australia.
Marks, approvals and certification
To substantiate compliance with standards, a number of organisations award marks, approvals and certification schemes, carrying varying levels of authority. Some of the most commonly applied to industrial plant are UL, CE, TÜV and BG.
UL stands for Underwriters Laboratory (Inc), a not for profit US government agency established in 1894. It provides third party testing of the safety of submitted products.
The problem is that UL tests products against its own standards, many of which are based on US ANSI standards that fall below Australia's.
The CE mark indicates that the product meets European safety regulations. Unfortunately however, in many countries, the CE mark can be applied without any testing and simply upon the manufacturer's unverified claim.
TÜV is a private yet well-respected company that has built its reputation on the independent testing of equipment against European standards and directives.
While commonly referred to as ‘BG’, the full name of this testing authority is ‘BG-PRÜFZERT’. The organisation describes itself as the ‘testing and certification bodies of the statutory accident insurance and prevention institution in Germany’. It focuses on machinery, electrical operating equipment, personal safety equipment and quality management systems, testing products against European directives for safety.
How to verify compliance
Most of the European testing organisations, such as those listed above, issue manufacturers with the right to use a symbol or mark on their compliant products and marketing material. The symbol or mark is supported by a certificate, and often a test report, that potential buyers should be able to access on request.
In the field of plant safety, there is no third party authority providing certification of devices in Australia. Various bodies such as the Office of Gas Safety and the Australian Communications Authority will usually accept approval certificates from these European third party approval authorities, but not always.
It may sometimes be necessary to provide full test reports from these bodies to prove that a product complies to their satisfaction, particularly with respect to electromagnetic interference (EMI) issues.
When it comes to assemblies or machines consisting of many components, compliance gets a little trickier. To be confident that a particular machine complies with the European machine directive (and other directives), the letter of conformity from the manufacturer must be examined.
Even this is not a cast iron guarantee that the machine complies, since the export model may differ from the European model and/or Australian standards may demand a higher level than Europe deems necessary for conformance.
There are notified bodies in Australia who are approved by NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) and capable of assessing whether an assembly or machine meets all the necessary standards demanded by the various directives.
This is probably the best way of ensuring compliance, short of getting copies of all the standards and wading through these and their various interpretations yourself.
So, it's compliant!
Having satisfied yourself that the machine is compliant with the relevant standards, refer back to your State's regulations. The process of identifying hazards, assessing risks and controlling them so far as is practicable still applies. This analysis may reveal that even machines compliant with standards need modification.
The relevance and importance of these three steps is common to each Australian State and their documentation is also mandatory for every party involved with the machine, from the designer right through to the employer.
The good news is that when the manufacturer/designer demonstrates compliance with international standards, the task is made far easier and your success in providing a safe workplace much more certain.