(November 2008) One of the professional groups never at want for work in the construction industry are lawyers. They move into action whenever there is a quarrel or difference of opinion, which is often the case on and around construction sites.
Quarry-owners and distributors alike will soon have to get used to the idea whenever they think of exporting goods to the European Union or the EFTA-countries – nearly all of Europe, that is. This is because the rule of law stipulating conformity of building materials as expressed by the CE-mark has been in place for some time now.
Most import-merchants did not bother with such rules to date. This is likely to change as soon as lawyers concentrate on the issue. As soon as a conflict evolves on the building site – which is bound to be the case in many construction sites – lawyers will ask whether the building material carried the CE-mark. If not, the fact could prove costly for the distributor.
The magic word: comparability
Over all it can be said that the CE-mark symbolizes conformity of natural stone with the European norms. CE is an acronym for Conformité Européenne or conformity to European rules. European norms – or EN – demand that distributors meet certain specifications and declare them e.g. apparent density, or water absorption. Beyond that, EN now requires data on the origin of the material.
Also the scientific name of the stone must be specified – not only its trade name, e.g. slate. This may sound simple but that’s just the point – more on that subject later.
Further specifics pertain to measurements, surface processing and appearance..
Note that the CE-mark does not set standards for the different types of natural stone but rather for the manufactured goods for which stone is implemented. The requirements apply not only to merchants dealing within the European Union but to all who deliver to the European market.
The norms have three main goals: first, they mean to facilitate comparison for the consumer when deciding which building material best suits his needs.
Secondly the norms are meant to replace the many national rules, which have become obscure with the increase of globalization. Thus it is hoped that unnecessary obstacles will be removed aiding a free and open market.
And finally it is hoped that the European norms will abolish the many often-misleading fantasy-names under which stone is often sold today.
Thus comparability is the main aim of the norms. The CE-mark is the sign of conformity to the norms.
To avoid having to create new control points within the European union or on the docks the merchants importing the stone bear sole responsibility in assuring that the product complies with the norms and carries the CE-mark if necessary by applying the proofs himself.
First step: initial proof
First step in the procedure is the initial proofing, which takes place in a laboratory or similar controlled environment. Here the usual technical data are collected. The norms also give detailed specifics on how to determine certain attributes. If the stone conform to the stipulated norms the CE-mark may be applied. Some of the norms are listed below (the complete list).
It is the import-merchant’s duty to check whether initial proofing took place in conformity with the norms with the assistance of the so-called declaration of conformity. In it the producer testifies that the proofing took place in an approved laboratory. The declaration is legally binding. If the import-merchant and the producer do not know one another, the former is likely to want to see and peruse the test results.
These rules do not apply to rough blocks or rough slabs. Special rules also apply for building material to clad ceilings.
However it is no secret that natural stone is inhomogeneous and that its properties may vary within short distances in the quarry. How does the CE-mark deal with this hurdle?
Constant surveillance in the plant
The solution found by EU-Experts is to require constant surveillance during production on top of initial proofing. Thus there is an obligation to continually test the sampled data to check for deviance. The technical data must be revised at least once every two years.
Should there be significant deviance, the parties are obliged to undertake the initial proofing anew. It is not quite clear what deviance is considered significant although expert opinion places a 10% mark on the meaning.
Even though some of the norms have been in force for a few years already little fuzz has been made about them. There was a dispute between Spain and Brazil about slate. The point of issue was whether the Brazilian variety could rightly be classified as slate even if it met the scientific definition.
According to the Brazilian point of view the EU purportedly sought to implement indirect trade restrictions by adjusting definitions to meet its cause.
In fact even the European merchants have hat a bone or two to pick with the CE-mark. Since stone must now carry the identity of the country of origin, many a stone has been expatriated so-to-speak, no longer being allowed to be sold as a local product.
Time will tell whether another point of contention will cause conflict among merchants. It seems possible, that the CE-mark might be abused to reduce competition: If a dealer does not comply and fails to apply the CE-Mark, he will be liable for a fine of up to 50,000 Euro and will be forced to retract his products from the market.
Architects and builders are likely to find the CE-mark helpful since it assists in gaining a clear picture of the properties of the material at hand despite the wide range of products.
Producers may lament the additional costs. But in the long run there are advantages because the rules now are homogeneous and products only need to comply once for all European countries.
There have been attempts to counterfeit the CE-mark though these were reported to pertain to other products. Chinese trademark-pirates had copied the symbol around the CE-mark and placed a different logo in the center declaring CE to stand for „China Export“.
* Raw blocks and raw slabs (polished or not) need not carry the CE-Mark but the supplier is free to provide a declaration of conformity.
* Yet if slabs are processed the final products must carry the CE-Mark. This is valid also if goods already carrying the label are tranferred into other products.
* Kitchen countertops or vanity units need no CE-mark.
* Special regulation are in force for stone for restoration.
Material for cladding of ceilings: whereas there is no rule stipulating the type of laboratory responsible for carrying out the initial proofing of flooring slabs, ceiling slabs may only be tested by state-registered laboratories.
Norms for Natural Stone Products:
EN 1469 Slabs for Cladding
EN 12057 Tiles
EN 12058 Slabs for floors and stairs
EN 12059 stone for massive work
EN 1341k Slabs for outside use
EN 1342 paving stones
EN 1343 kerb-stones
EN 771-6 rubble stones
EN 1467 rough blocks
EN 1468 rough slabs
The norm for slate EN 12326 „Slate and stone products for discontinuous roofing and cladding” differs slightly from the other norms inasmuch as it refers only to slate and not to the finished product.