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The Machinery Directive – one of the first New Approach Directives

The Machinery Directive was one of the first New Approach Directives to be developed by the Commission and subsequently Member States. Its purpose was to remove barriers to trade caused by different requirements for machinery safety promulgated by Member States.

Work started in 1984 with the Commission producing a draft directive based on a combination of regulations from Member States – the normal practice for preparing directives. However, significant problems occurred because national regulations prescribed specific technical requirements for a given machine and these were all different in some aspect. Moreover, this approach did not include all machines – particularly robots and other computer-controlled machines – and many hazards, such as noise, vibration, toxic materials and ergonomic aspects. Therefore a risk-based approach to basic machinery hazards was adopted and these were expressed as a list of essential health and safety requirements (EHSRs) that make up Annex I of the directive.

The directive places on manufacturers administrative and technical obligations that must be met before machines can be placed on the market. It regulates a wide range of industrial sectors handled by the Directorate General for Enterprise & Industry of the European Commission.

The interplay between Law and Standards


The EHSRs represent the objectives to be achieved, while the detailed technical specifications for attaining these objectives for each product type are dealt with in harmonised European standards adopted by CEN or CENELEC on the basis of consensus between interested parties. According to the Machinery Directive, application of the essential requirements must take into consideration both a risk assessment for the type of machine concerned and the “state of the art”. Under the New Approach, the job of reflecting the “state of the art” for a particular aspect of machinery safety or for a particular type of machine is assigned to technical standards. The machinery standards programme is dealt with in the section "The European system of harmonized standards for machinery safety".

Implementation of the Machinery Directive in each Member State


It is important to understand that the Machinery Directive requires each Member State to introduce national laws/regulations that implement the requirements of the Machinery Directive. It is these national laws/regulations that apply in each Member State and not the Machinery Directive. However, because these national laws/regulations differ in structure to suit individual legal systems, it is useful to have knowledge of the Directive as well because this is the source document.


Relationship with the Essential Health-and-Safety Requirements (EHSRs) of other New Approach Directives


The Machinery Directive requires that, where an identified hazard/risk is specifically dealt with by another directive, the requirements of that specific directive are the way to meet the ESHRs of the Machinery Directive. For example, if there is a hazard/risk associated with an explosive atmosphere, it is likely that the Directive 94/9/EC on Equipment and Protective Systems Intended for Use in Potentially Explosive Atmospheres (know as the ATEX Directive) will apply for those risks. Therefore, it is essential that, for a given machine, the list of identified hazards/risks is checked against the list of New Approach Directives to see if this requirement applies. The same approach must be used when writing any Harmonised Standard (see the section on EN 414 for more information).


Relationship with other Directives


Because machines are so universal, they may also be covered by directives that deal with other aspects such as the environment, particularly noise. In many, cases this requires the designer to comply with technical requirements such as noise emission limits before the EC mark can be applied.


In addition some Directives dealing with protection at work require precise technical requirements e.g. roll over protection on some vehicles and the designer must comply with these before the machine is put into use.