CE switchover postponed to 2025 – and its application to fire curtains.

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Table of Contents

Deadline extension

The deadline for the transition from the European CE mark to the United Kingdom’s new UKCA mark has recently been extended again to 1st January 2025.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the previous deadline of 1st January 2023 was going to be impractical to meet, as there were simply too many products that required recertification to the new mark. The government’s decision followed lobbying by, among others, the construction industry, as reported in The Construction Index1. Among the product areas cited as giving cause for concern were passive fire protection systems that are “necessary to deliver the new homes, schools and hospitals the country needs”.

Apart from the implications for exporting to Europe, why were industry groups so concerned that CE marking was threatened with extinction without a workable alternative being ready?

Looking at what CE marking is will give us the answer.

What is CE marking?

According to Single Market Economy2, The letters ‘CE’ appear on many products traded on the extended Single Market in the European Economic Area (EEA). They signify that products sold in the EEA have been assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements.

CE marking also supports fair competition by holding all companies accountable to the same rules.

By affixing the CE marking to a product, a manufacturer declares that the product meets all the legal requirements for CE marking and can be sold throughout the EEA. This also applies to products made in other countries that are sold in the EEA.

There are two main benefits CE marking brings to businesses and consumers within the EEA

  • businesses know that products bearing the CE marking can be traded in the EEA without restrictions
  • consumers enjoy the same level of health, safety, and environmental protection throughout the entire EEA

CE marking is a part of the EU’s harmonisation legislation, which is mainly managed by Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs.

Changes to the legislation

The legislation applying to construction products has changed significantly over the past decade. The CE Marking Association point out, “There has been a European Directive (89/106/EEC) covering Construction Products since 1991, which was only voluntary in the UK. However, since 1st July 2013, the old Directive was replaced by the new Construction Products Regulation (305/2011/EU) making it mandatory for construction products in the UK (and the rest of Europe) to be CE marked.3.

The government guidance on the ‘Construction Products Regulations’ “includes requirements for construction products to have CE marking and to be accompanied by a declaration of performance (DoP) and other information if it is to be placed on the market in the European Economic Area and it is covered by…a harmonised European product standard…

The guidance also clarifies “All existing harmonised European standards became UK ‘designated standards’. This means that harmonised European standards and UK-designated standards are currently identical.” Further, it states “Accepted marking or combination of markings” for “Construction product being supplied to the GB market until 30 June 2025” are “UKCA or CE or CE & UK(NI)”.

For fire curtains, BS EN 16034 is the only harmonised standard available to CE mark. It has applied since 1st November 2019, its scope being “applicable to all fire resisting and/or smoke control products intended to be used in fire and/or smoke compartmentation and/or escape routes, which are… rolling shutters or operable fabric curtains… and which are manually or power operated and… normally held open but self-closing in case of fire or smoke… and completed… with or without any seals (e.g. for smoke control, fire resistance…)”.

It is used in conjunction with the standard BS EN 13241:2003+A2:2016; Industrial, commercial, garage doors and gates – Product standard, performance characteristics.  This standard “specifies the safety and performance requirements for doors, gates and barriers, intended for installation in areas in the reach of persons”. Confirming the tandem nature of the standards, BS EN 13241:2003+A2:2016 states in paragraph 1.1 that “Fire resisting and/or smoke control characteristics for industrial, commercial, garage doors and gates are covered by EN 16034.

The acid test as to whether a product shall be CE marked is whether it is ‘covered’ by a harmonised European product standard.

As such, with CE marking available for vertical fire curtains to BS EN 16034, it is clear that vertical fire curtains are ‘covered’ by BS EN 16034, making Provision 4 of the CPR apply (see extracts lower down). Accreditation Bodies akin to UKAS (e.g., ENAC), and Notified Bodies such as Applus+ providing CE marking to BS EN 16034 for vertical fire curtains is evidence the standard ‘covers’ vertical fire curtains. In July 2018, in preparation for the harmonisation of EN 16034, Applus+ (Notified Body Nr. 0370) published ‘New CE Marking for fabric fire curtains’4.

Conversely, with or without third-party certification, BS 8524 is not harmonised and cannot offer fire curtains a route to compliance with the CPR.

Indeed, to keep BS 8524 legal for vertical fire curtains after 1st November 2019, one would have to argue that BS EN 16034 didn’t cover fire curtains. Whilst this could be argued for horizontal and concertina fire curtains, it is difficult to argue this for vertical fire curtains when Notified Bodies are providing CE marking to them.

As well as the scope of BS EN 16034 clearly covering fire curtains, to say vertical fire curtains were not covered by BS EN 16034 would also mean differentiating between vertical fire curtains and fire shutters, two products that are essentially the same (there is no debate about fire shutters coming under BS EN 16034).

Indeed, the similarity between the products is such that when someone asks, What is a fire curtain?, the easy answer is to say, Are you familiar with roller shutters – they are the same but just with a steel fabric curtain instead of the steel scroll lath curtain. If there were a case for differentiating products based on these micro differences, a ‘need’ would arise for a multitude of new product standards. This would be impractical and create confusion for the consumer with multiple standards to choose from, most of which would suit a ‘for-profit’ manufacturer and its stakeholders rather than being ‘safety-first’.

It is also not a question of considering the benefit of using BS 8524-1 in an ancillary role at additional cost. The two standards conflict. Incidentally, third-party certification isn’t cheap so for a manufacturer to have two sets of certifications that overlap for the fundamental tests means either the same product has to be sold for a higher price, or the delivery service or product quality has to be cut. Several of the components for different fire curtains come from similar or the same source countries or component manufacturers. In an open market, no manufacturer makes profits such that they can simply absorb these duplicate costs and still make a sustainable margin unless they reduce costs elsewhere.

The risks

Some critically important extracts from Provision 2, Interpretation5, and Provision 4, Prohibition on Supply etc.6, of the CPR are:

  • 2.—(1) In these Regulations—… “supply” includes offering to supply, agreeing to supply, exposing for supply and possessing for supply, and related expressions shall be construed accordingly.”
  • 4.—(1) A person who supplies a construction product that is covered by a harmonised standard or conforms to a European Technical Assessment that has been issued for it shall be guilty of an offence unless—

a. there is supplied with the product in accordance with Article 7 of the 2011 Regulation a declaration of performance for the product drawn up in accordance with Articles 4 and 6 of the 2011 Regulation; and

b. the product has affixed to it the CE marking in accordance with Article 8(2) of the 2011 Regulation…

  • 4.—(3) A person who supplies a construction product to which the CE marking has been affixed in breach of any provision of Article 8 or 9 of the 2011 Regulation shall be guilty of an offence.
  • 4.—(4) A person guilty of an offence under this regulation shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both.

With the accompanying CE marking and requisite record keeping, audit trail requirements, and transparency, it is in the interests of consumer safety for a product to be included under a harmonised standard, as opposed to looking for reasons to exclude a product from the safety of the CPR.

There is inherent and serious risk in buying or specifying construction products that do not comply with the CPR. For example, “A person guilty of an offence under this regulation [the CPR] shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment… or to a fine”6. Since the CPR came into force on 1st July 2013, everyone in the supply chain has a duty of care responsibility, whether buying, selling, specifying, approving, or installing.

Secondary significant risks are complaints raised by consumers as to a product not being legally compliant; could this lead to insurance companies withdrawing fire cover for the asset and/ or could the consumer sue for damages due to latent defects? Could products have to be replaced and a building be closed whilst that work is carried out?

To recap, fire curtains are a construction product that fall under the CPR and must legally be CE (or UKCA) marked to the harmonised standard that covers them (BS EN 16034). CE marking to the Machinery Directive does not satisfy the legal requirements of the CPR where there is a harmonised standard in existence that covers the product. 

Concerned about your fire curtains not complying with the law?

The government guidance on the ‘EU Construction Products Regulation and CE marking, including UK product contact point for construction products’ advises: “If you have concerns regarding other construction products not being CE marked, then you should contact either the local authority Trading Standards office or alternatively the Trading Standards office for the area where the product manufacturer concerned has its head office7.

You can point to this article or provide a copy of our white paper, Fire curtain regulations in the UK8, in support of your claim. Resolving issues ahead of future claims by other parties is vital for mitigating damages.

If you can be seen to be proactively remediating issues, you may avert insurance being refused or a building being deemed unsafe for use. And, most importantly, being on the right side of the law is critical for a life safety product that depends on reliability of performance to save lives.

Applications of BS EN 16034

BS EN 16034 refers to retail premises in its scope. The question has been raised, What about fire curtains outside of a retail application?

We had this question from the audience at our talk in the Innovation & Regulation Theatre at the Fire Safety Event on 27th April 2023. The talk was titled, “Fire curtain compliance in the UK: The status quo of BS 8524 and BS EN 16034”9.

To get the answer we need to read the standard [BS EN 16034] in more depth. If you read the scope you will see it says “requirements applicable to all fire resisting and/or smoke control products intended to be used in fire and/or smoke compartmentation and/or escape routes, which are EITHER:

  • industrial, commercial… etc…. OR
  • rolling shutters… etc… OR
  • pedestrian doorsets… etc…” and so on. [capitalisation added]

Without re-typing out the whole standard here (we always recommend checking the original text yourself) it goes on to give definitions in section 3:

  • A “doorset” is defined as a whole range of items including “rolling shutter and/ or operable fabric curtains including any frame or guide” or “rolling or folding curtain”.
  • An “operable fabric curtain” is defined as a “doorset with leaf constructed from woven material… which functions as a rolling shutter”.

We can see here that the scope covers operable fabric curtains (a doorset with leaf constructed from woven material which functions as a roller shutter) including any frame or guide or rolling or folding curtain. This description clearly covers vertical fire curtains. Those seeking to question this may say a fire curtain doesn’t function as a roller shutter functions. If this question is referring to operations and times, we think it is fair to say the scope is not intending to include or exclude products based on them being opened e.g. at 10am in the morning or 2pm in the afternoon, or being opened several times a day or only once a week. The standard is dealing with the “requirements applicable to all fire resisting and/or smoke control products intended to be used in fire and/or smoke compartmentation and/or escape routes”, not hours or frequency of operation.

It can be seen the author is seeking to include a description to provide cover for ‘doors’ (or ‘doorsets’) with similar characteristics. What is plain is that a ‘doorset’ includes fire curtains, and a pedestrian doorset is therefore a fire curtain that can be passed under by a pedestrian (in simple speak). Language (English or any other) is plain in the use of ‘either’, ‘or’, and commas; a single term is relevant in isolation without being dependant on any other term, much like contracts will invariably say ‘should one clause be unenforceable it shall not render any other clauses unenforceable’.

As such, it is accurate to say the definition for a ‘doorset’ in BS EN 16034 is a “rolling shutter and/ or operable fabric curtain including any frame or guide” or “rolling or folding curtain”. It is true to read this singularly like this.

Obviously a ‘doorset’ includes many other products too.

As we can see, BS EN 16034 covers vertical fire curtains where a person could potentially be under it.

Need there be any uncertainty?

In BSI’s National foreword in BS EN 16034, they include the bold warning, “Compliance with a British Standard cannot confer immunity from legal obligations”.

‘Legal obligations’ include compliance with the Construction Products Regulations (the ‘CPR’) for construction products as evidenced by CE marking to the harmonised standard, from a Notified Body.

The CPR requires a “construction product to have CE marking… if… it is covered by…a harmonised European product standard”.

So, the acid test is, Is the product covered by a harmonised standard?

If it is, it is legally required to CE mark to that harmonised standard. The penalty for breach is imprisonment or a fine.

In ASFP’s ‘Technical Guidance Document – TGD 21, UKCA / CE Marking of Operable Fabric Curtains’10, they point out that some in the UK pushed back on BS EN 16034 covering fire curtains. The pushback was unsuccessful, and in Nov 2018, many of the Notified Bodies voted in favour of BS EN 16034 covering fire curtains:

Guidance was sought in 2018 from GNB-CPR-SG0611 and a Position Paper was circulated to its Membership of which some of the UK Conformity Assessment Bodies and the ASFP rebutted. However, they determined at the 19th meeting of SG06 in November 2018, that it is possible to CE mark Operable Fabric Curtains with the BS EN 16034:2014 only in combination with BS EN 13241:2003+A2:2016.” [emphasis added]

In the same document, ASFP states CE marking of fire curtains to BS EN 16034 is legally mandatory:

Following the re-citing of EN 16034:2014 in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) on 28 October 2016, CE marking of operable fabric curtains became Mandatory under European Union Construction Product Regulations (CPR) from 01 November 2019” [emphasis added]

However, they go on to recommend seeking advice where you require further clarification but don’t say why.

For the reasons included in the white paper, Fire curtain regulations in the UK8, our opinion is that the new law and the regulations are quite clear and any attempts to create uncertainty are unhelpful to those seeking to comply with their legal responsibilities. However, if further clarification is required, we would suggest speaking to the higher authorities i.e., a Notified Body such as Applus+ (Notified Body Nr. 0370). For example, Applus+ have a third-party certification scheme for CE marking fire curtains to BS EN 16034. In turn, this scheme is accredited by ENAC (akin to UKAS), which is the gold standard. Applus+ also published an article on the subject in July 2018, ‘New CE Marking for fabric fire curtains’4.

It is possibly due to national protectionist instincts of BS 8524 (the UK created BS 8524 and it was the first dedicated fire curtain product standard in the world so we are understandably proud of it), or possibly due to the pros and cons of BS 8524, or possibly due to other factors such as marketing, that there has been a lack of awareness around BS EN 16034 here in the UK.

Indeed, if you analyse the advertising efforts of others in the marketplace since BS EN 16034 became harmonised on 1st Nov 2019 you will find over 30 articles promoting BS 8524 without one mentioning BS EN 16034. Quite a statistic in the context that BS EN 16034 is legally required since that date for vertical fire curtains, but one that shows the industry’s leaning in the UK.

It is only since Adexon Fire & Smoke Curtains first published this white paper in the Autumn of 2022 that others in the industry in this country have really started to acknowledge BS EN 16034. We published it in response to market feedback and the large number of people not knowing about the legal requirements. If we had realised it was being overlooked to such an extent, we would have filled the void earlier but since Grenfell had been very focused on product development (coming up with “the UK’s premier design of fire curtain”)12, third-party testing, and certification, and getting on with our day-to-day business.

So, to answer the question raised by the section heading, there need not be any uncertainty around the legal requirement to CE mark vertical fire curtains to BS EN 16034 since 1st Nov 2019. This can be seen by:

  • The Group of Notified Bodies for the Construction Products Regulations, Steering Group 06 (GNB-CPR-SG06), determined in November 2018 that BS EN 16034 covers fire curtains. This was after attempts by some in the UK to rebut (claim or prove as false) the application of BS EN 16034 to fire curtains.
  • Earlier, in October 2016, EN 16034:2014 was recited in the Official Journal of the European Union. This meant CE marking of operable fabric curtains would be legally mandatory under the CPR from 1st November ’19 (after the 3-year coexistence period)
  • The position taken by the Notified Bodies, and
  • CE marking for vertical fire curtains being available to BS EN 16034 (if it didn’t cover the product, it couldn’t be available from a Notified Body).

As can be seen, there need be no uncertainty as to the legal requirement to CE mark all vertical fire curtains to BS EN 16034 since 1st Nov 2019.

Technical Annexes

CE mark certificates with a Technical Annexe provide additional information to the consumer. We highly recommend anyone purchasing life safety products use those that come with this degree of transparency.

Traditionally, a lot of the information about the product that the manufacturer successfully had tested is in the test reports that are not publicly available. Hence CE marking certificates with a Technical Annexe is so beneficial to the consumer. This enables you to check that the product you are buying is the same as the test specimen.

In other words, has it been manufactured:

  • from the same materials – including specifications?
  • to the same design?
  • using the same process

CE marking has been described as a scheme that provides assurance to customers that they are buying what they expect they are buying. This assurance is enhanced by publishing technical details of the manufactured product such as the materials used, specifications for components, how the product was tested, etc. It provides the customer with a level of transparency and traceability concerning the product they are buying. A product has to be what it purports to be.

The Technical Annexe is compiled to allow the customer to review additional critical information on the product (see Figure 1). This combination of independent scrutiny and compliance with widely recognised standards contributes to ensuring that products are fit for purpose

Rising to the challenge

In a post-Grenfell fire industry, should we not rise to the challenge and accept it as compulsory for life-safety critical products such as passive fire protection systems to have this level of publicly available transparency?

Where manufacturers are allowed to sell passive fire systems without the transparency described above there could be the conflict of interest where manufacturers are tempted to put profits first. This could have potential repercussions for the performance of the product. For example, would you trust a fire curtain that has been tested at 3m × 3m to protect a space that is 7m wide if you had no third-party evidence from a Notified Body? Without the Technical Annexe, you wouldn’t be able to check the sizes that have been tested, or other key details that assures you the product covers the application you require.

On the other hand, if you buy a fire curtain that is third-party certified to the harmonised standard BS EN 16034, with CE marking and a Technical Annexe, you can be sure of the product’s suitability for the application in hand. If you want the best safety available, rely on CE marking.

This article was written by the team at Adexon Fire & Smoke in November 2022 (revised on 8th June 2023). It includes the views of the Adexon team, and its intention is to raise awareness and standards in the fire safety industry.

If you have a question for the team or would like to give feedback on this article or find out more, please get in touch.