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talking point

CE marking must be enforced now to prevent Britain becoming a dumping ground for substandard geosynthetics, says Derek Smith.

At the start of the third European Conference on Geosynthetics, being held in Munich from 29 February to 4 March, an announcement will be made on the venue for the fourth European conference in 2008. The UK Chapter of the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) has bid to host this conference and is optimistic that in September 2008, Edinburgh will be the focus of attention for the European geosynthetics industry.

Most of you will have come across some strange rule introduced by the European Union. Parma ham can only be made in Parma, champagne must be made in Champagne, Eccles cakes must be made in Eccles (! ). Whether we are in favour of the EU or not, such rules have been introduced to protect members of the EU, the good name and quality of these items and the jobs associated with the production of them.

We have all become familiar with the application of CE Marking on products such as electrical goods and children's' toys. Most sensible and informed consumers consider this CE Marking reassuring and commendable. The Construction Products Directive gradually introduces CE Marking to a wide range of construction-related products. As standards are developed, the requirement for CE Marking for these products becomes mandatory.

In 1989, the EU Commission, under the Construction Products Directive, introduced Mandate 106 which lead to the formation of CEN TC 189 and the requirement that geotextiles and related products (geosynthetics), sold within the European Community, should be subject to CE Marking from October 2002 (GE February 2003). The reason for mandating geosynthetics was that these products have key functions in major infrastructure projects, which can have implications for public safety.

Since the early 1990s, much work has been carried out in CEN TC 189 by specialists from the UK and other European countries to put in place a range of harmonised testing procedures and a series of requirements standards that manufacturers must meet to obtain CE Marking for their products. The CE Marking programme ensures the declaration of relevant characteristics and disclosure of variations in properties, and introduces factory production control which safeguards uniformity in manufacturing.

So how does this affect geotechnical engineers? The majority of European countries have instigated the requirement for geosynthetic CE Marking. However, the UK government has chosen not to. The effect of this is to leave the UK market open to totally unregulated and potentially inferior products, including geotextiles and geogrids which would not be accepted for sale in other European countries. Yet every geotextile and geogrid manufacturer in the UK has invested considerable time and money to obtain the CE Mark for their products - a necessity if they want to export geotextiles and geogrids to Europe.

The aim of the IGS is to promote the scientific and engineering development of geotextiles, geomembranes, related products and associated technologies. The implementation of mandatory CE Marking for geosynthetics for use in Europe seems to complement that aim. Designing with geosynthetics must be undertaken by qualified, experienced engineers to appropriate design standards. The selection of products must be based on quality performance data. The CE Mark provides the designer with the confidence that the product will fulfil the design requirement.

So why isn't the UK government introducing the CE Mark as a legal requirement? We are told that it is not a politically contentious issue and that the implementation can be formalised by enacting a very minor piece of legislation. It would be a positive statement from the government that it is backing the UK manufacturing industry. The answer therefore is - we have no idea! It is doubtful whether many of us would find this nonchalant attitude to CE Marking acceptable for, say, electrical goods or plastic toys. Nevertheless it is the case for geotextiles and related products, and for all other construction related products covered by the CE Marking Scheme.

Geosynthetics products sold in the UK should be required to have CE marking. The government should, at the earliest opportunity, take the necessary steps to enact the relevant CE Marking legislation.

This has the widespread support of the geosynthetic industry.

If you would like to find out more about the Construction Products Directive, there is a consultation taking place via the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) website www. fbe. co. uk/cpd under the subject of 'Issues'. The main topic concerns the revision of the Construction Products Directive but some of the solicitations concern CE Marking. You are encouraged to bring this to the attention of not only your own staff but other interested customers and colleagues and ask them to post their views on the website.

Derek Smith is chairman of the International Geosynthetics Society UK Chapter and associate at EDGE Consultants.

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