The CE mark
CE is short for Conformité Européene, or European Conformity. It is a mark used on a product or its packaging to show that it conforms to the relevant EU standards on health, safety and environment which are required in the European Economic Area (EEA).
CE marking is done as a self-declaration by the manufacturer that the product complies with the relevant EU regulations. In the context of electrical equipment it means the product complies with the low voltage directive.
With no customs barriers between EU countries allowing free movement of goods and the single market, standards had to be harmonised across member states and the CE mark simplifies this.
Where is the CE mark required?
All EU countries require CE marking on eligible products, plus the European Free Trade Agreement countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland; Turkey also requires it. Outside these countries it is not necessary. Whilst not applicable, other countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and USA recognise the CE mark as equivalent to a national requirement.
CE marking only allows import, free movement and sale of applicable products within the EU. Not all products require CE marking, and determining whether it is needed is the first step in manufacturer self-certification. As it is a manufacturer declaration, it has not been verified by an outside body, national authority, or the EU. It also does not mean that a product has been manufactured in the EU, only that it meets the standards to be imported or sold in the EU. An importer can add or affix the CE mark to a product if they also declare conformance, and accept responsibility for conformance.
If an item is found without CE marking, the manufacturer is first given the opportunity to make a CE declaration of conformity to keep the product on the market. This may (or may not) require alterations to the product. If this does not happen there is the possibility of a fine.
As the CE mark is not subject to independent third party testing or verification, it should not be viewed as a quality mark or safety mark. To quote the European Commission: “It is important to know that the CE marking does not indicate that products have been approved as safe by the European Union or by another authority. Nor, for example, does it indicate the origin of a product!” Instead, national or international approvals, for example BS or ASTA in the UK, VDE in Germany etc, should be looked for. CE marking should not be confused with the ENEC approvals mark, which is also pan-European but a fully accredited test house.
These require stringent initial testing, renewal testing, and random inspections of the factory and products in the marketplace. Both the finished product and the manufacturing process are investigated, and the required standard is much higher and wide-reaching than that of the CE mark. As testing is to a higher standard, any EU based approval supersedes the CE mark. Where the costs of the approvals process is prohibitive, for example a small production run of low value products, CE marking (if applicable) is the minimum standard.
Broad categories requiring CE marking(exceptions not listed):
- large/small household appliances
- IT and telecommunications equipment
- consumer equipment
- lighting equipment
- electrical and electronic tools
- toys, leisure, and sports equipment
- medical devices
- industrial monitoring and control instruments
- automatic dispensers
If a product does not fall under any of the categories requiring the CE mark, it does not need to carry it. In fact, it must not carry it.
For example, the Low Voltage Directive is very clear that the CE mark must not be used on “plugs and socket outlets for domestic use” (Part 1).
The UK Department for Trade and Industry states “As the devices regulated by Part I are outside of the scope of Community Directives and the Regulations are national in origin in support of the General Product Safety Directive, the CE Marking is not to be used. Its use may constitute an offence under section 1 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968”. CE marks found on products outside the scope of the applicable directives should be investigated. The physical mark should be at least 5mm, permanent, and not obscured but other marks. If it is not possible to put on the product, it may be put on the product’s packaging.
Is CE marking needed on a power cable or mains lead?
The CE mark must definitely not be used on a rewireable mains plug, or domestic socket outlet. By continuation, the CE mark should not be on the plug of a moulded mainslead either. CE clearly states that it applies to products, not components. Therefore a mains cable hard wired into a piece of equipment does not require CE marking, and whether a CE declaration of conformity is required depends upon the larger piece of equipment.
The same applies if a detachable power cord is supplied with the equipment: the RoHS guidance document states “External cables that form part of another EEE because they are sold together or marketed/shipped for use with an EEE, e.g. power cords, must meet the material restrictions but do not need an individual CE marking and Declaration of Conformity if they are covered by the DoC for the EEE and the EEE is CE marked.” EEE is electrical and electronic equipment.
The only environment where CE marking is required is if supplying a power cable as a piece of electrical equipment on its own, e.g. retail packed in a supermarket. For this reason, a double-ended power cable, e.g. mains plug to IEC C13 connector may have a CE mark on the non-plug end. The CE mark may also be put on the product label, bag, or carton.
The European Commission’s statement of 22/01/2013 concisely summarises: “When cord sets are sold as a stand-alone product, the manufacturer/authorised representative is required to mark this product with a CE marking (or failing that mark, in the packaging or the instruction manual and undertake the responsibility to demonstrate that it is compliant”.
To conclude, CE marking is necessary on certain end products to be imported into or sold within the EU. It does not apply to mains cables supplied with the equipment, but does apply if the power cord is supplied as a stand alone product. CE marking is by self-declaration, so carries no guarantee of quality or safety – only national approvals bodies, such BS and ASTA in the UK, VDE in Germany etc, who test more stringently to higher standards do this.