Crane manufacturers and ESTA discuss how to make new European machinery regulations work

ESTA and the mobile crane manufacturers are working together to explore how to manage the controversial new European Machinery Regulations that have now passed all political hurdles and are due to come into force by 2027.

The key difficulty is the regulations’ stipulation that all mobile machinery such as mobile cranes and access platforms should – ‘where relevant’ – be designed to prevent contact with overhead power lines or, where the risk cannot be avoided, designed to ensure that all hazards ‘of an electrical nature’ are prevented.

The manufacturers have repeatedly pointed out that building such safeguards into the design and manufacture of the equipment is technically impossible, but despite their concerns the regulations have been published largely unchanged.

Critics also say that the authors of the new regulations are confusing professional project management and site safety procedures with manufacturing standards.

The European Commission will itself produce guidance on how the regulations should be interpreted but in the meantime crane users and manufacturers are discussing amendments to EN13000 that will take account of the new regulations (EN13000 is the European standard applicable to mobile cranes and specifies in detail the basic requirements of the machinery directive).

The discussions are taking place both through European Standards Committee CEN/TC 147 WG 11 and the ICSA – the International Crane Stakeholders Assembly – to which both ESTA and the European manufacturers organisation FEM belong and which has members in the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.

The intention is that the European organisations will be able to tap into the experience of other countries, especially the USA where similar debates have taken place in recent years.

Klaus Meissner, ESTA’s recently appointed crane expert, said: “The difficulty is that this is not a manufacturer’s issue, but a user’s issue.”

Meissner, one of Europe’s leading crane industry experts, continued: “Quite simply, there is no technical solution applicable to mobile cranes, so in the standard for mobile cranes the manufacturers will have to include words about the danger of contact with power lines and the appropriate health and safety measures to be taken on site.

“In short, we will have to look at how to import site management safety practices into the mobile crane standard so that it is compliant with the regulations.”

Industry experts have long said they would support any practical measures to improve safety, but that some requirements in the new machinery regulations were impossible to deliver.

The specific concerns focus on a proposal hidden away in the depths of the regulations – to be precise in Annex III, Part 3, point 3.5.4.

The text of the section says: “Depending on its height, mobile machinery or related products shall, where relevant, be designed, constructed and equipped, so as to prevent the risk of contact with an energised overhead power line or the risk of creating an electric arc between any part of the machinery or an operator driving the machinery and an energised overhead power line.

“When the risk to the persons operating machinery incurred by the contact with an energised overhead power line cannot be fully avoided, mobile machinery or related product shall be designed, constructed and equipped so as to prevent any electrical hazards.”

The new European Machinery Regulations will update the existing Machinery Directive from 2006. This is one of the main pieces of legislation governing the harmonisation of health and safety requirements for machinery throughout the EU and is intended to promote the free movement of machinery within the single market as well as ensuring a high level of protection for workers and the public.

Meissner concluded: “We are reworking the EN13000 standard so that it is in line with the new regulations to be become a so-called harmonised standard. This is a huge task – not just for us but for the equipment manufacturers generally.

“In total over 860 standards, currently harmonized under the existing Directive, will have to be reworked and harmonised again.”