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Counterfeits remain threat
One of the biggest challenges facing the UK materials handling industry," says Jon Tridgell, president of The Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM), "is the threat posed by counterfeit and non-compliant equipment and machinery from both inside and outside of the EU."
There are 17 separate EU Directives and Regulations applying to the materials handling industry that are currently in force. These ensure the design and construction of safe, sustainable, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and ergonomic materials handling equipment. Significantly, compliance with these directives is law for any EU-based manufacturer but comes at a cost to both the manufacturer and the customer.
John Meale, managing director of ALEM member company, Thorworld Industries, is "newly-elected President of FEM - the European Materials Handling Federation, serving until October 2012.
Meale says: “As a member organisation, ALEM supports FEM in its efforts to prioritise safety and its tradition of drafting technical recommendations to complement EU Directives and Regulations. Most recently, FEM has worked with the EU Commission to draw up guidelines on the new EU Machinery Directive, which came into force in December 2009 and sets stricter safety standards to help reduce accidents relating to the use of machinery.” All ALEM member companies are committed to manufacturing ranges of materials handling equipment to increase efficiency and safety in and around the loading bay including dock shelters and seals, dock levellers, loading docks, RapidRoll doors, yard ramps and vehicle restraint systems. Accordingly, each company invests considerable amounts of time, expertise and money to ensure that these products fully comply with all relevant EU Directives and Regulations and are completely safe to use.
However, many products are imported from countries where manufacturing standards are poor and regulations, where they exist, are less stringent. Whilst equipment and machinery destined for EU countries are legally required to meet its legislative standards, many fail to do so.
“Counterfeiting – products purporting to meet the standards when they do not – is a growing problem,” adds Meale, “These non- conforming products can be manufactured – and sold - for significantly less than their European counterparts, making them appealing to customers. This unfair competition puts jobs at risk across the UK and Europe.”
Inferior imported materials
ALEM members are constantly encountering problems in imported, inferior materials handling equipment that fail to meet even the most basic health and safety requirements. These problems include incorrect steel grades being used during the manufacturing process, incorporation of poor quality components, sub standard welding during assembly operations plus general instability and weakness of structures used to take the weight of fork trucks and other heavy mobile equipment. All of this adds up to a toxic mix that has been shown to endanger the lives of equipment operators and other workers using non-compliant imported machinery.
Andy Georgiou, general manager of Stertil Stokvis encountered a typical problem with a dock leveller. He explains, “We were approached by a customer who had experienced a recurrent problem with the platform on his dock leveller. Over the course of five years, he had been forced to replace the platform three times due to buckling and distortion. Our engineers investigated the problem and realised that the equipment had been wrongly specified. The solution involved the installation of a correctly-specified platform which has now been operating successfully in a demanding application for over six years. The customer is, of course, delighted and wishes that he’d gone to an ALEM member in the first place and saved himself a lot of inconvenience and cost.”
All too often, breaches of EU regulations are only identified when something goes wrong, by which time it’s too late. John Meale says, “There’s been a huge amount of legislation applicable to the materials handling industry introduced over the last decade and we at ALEM feel that it’s time to focus on implementation and proper application rather than the creation of new requirements. This must be done through the introduction of effective surveillance and enforcement.”
Helping business to prosper
Jon Tridgell, president of The Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM) says industry associations can be derided for failing to provide the level of support that members expect, but those that do rise to the challenge are increasingly invaluable to businesses struggling to survive in a tough economy.
When survival is at stake, investment, growth and development often drop down the priority list. Keeping abreast of market movements, new legislation and revised industry standards can seem impossible without the support of an established industry representative like ALEM.
ALEM members are UK manufacturers and suppliers of loading bay equipment such as dock levellers, scissor lifts, tail lifts, loading ramps and vehicle restraints. The Association offers two benefit strands: firstly, it’s an active organisation that represents, informs and supports its members at all times. Secondly, customers of its members also benefit because of its uncompromising stance on product quality and support services. This means anyone buying from an ALEM member can be confident they’re dealing with a company which works to the highest standards and values its customers.
Working with other materials handling associations towards a common industry goal, ALEM provides tangible benefits to its members by its ability to update them on a wide range of topical issues, including new and proposed legislation and the development and amendment of product standards. Regular meetings offer a chance to discuss anything that impacts on the industry, as well as networking opportunities. All that’s required from members is that they are committed to complying with the relevant European Standards, the UK Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations and CE marking.
One of the Association’s main aims is to make both industry and end-users aware of how to comply with current legislation. Armed with this knowledge, members are better placed to counter the threat of cheap, unregulated and inferior equipment that can find its way onto the market from non-regulated countries. ALEM has a close association with the committees that govern European standards, allowing it to keep its members abreast of current and pending legislation and standards, which is crucial if they are to stay ahead of the market. ALEM’s contacts in Europe give members immediate access to developments, as well as the chance to influence decision-makers for the benefit of the UK industry.
In the UK, members are represented on a number of influential bodies to ensure close ties are maintained with an ever-changing market. This wide range of contacts means networking, sometimes a luxury to small companies, is easier to achieve and more focused. Members can also meet industry colleagues throughout the EU in a specially-focused product group.
Members of ALEM will find themselves represented to the Government, the Health and Safety Executive, BSI and other relevant organisations. It offers support, technical expertise and an unrivalled position within the industry, both in Europe and at home.
ALEM understands that such surveillance and enforcement will require significant investment and a high level of expertise and training. Consequently, one proposal under consideration is the financing and appointment of industry experts who could assist competent authorities. The Association also stresses that it’s important for end-users to understand that they are responsible for ensuring that the products they purchase comply with the relevant regulations – if a worker is hurt due to non-compliant products, directors of the employing company could be subject to a fine or even imprisonment. ALEM advises potential purchasers of materials handling equipment to check the credentials of the company that has manufactured it. All ALEM members are committed to complying with all relevant European Standards, the UK Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations and CE marking. In return for this commitment, the Association offers support, technical expertise and an unrivalled position within the industry, both in Europe and at home.
Jon Tridgell sums up the Association’s reputation: “Our members’ refusal to compromise on the quality of their products and support services means that businesses buying from an ALEM member know that they are dealing with a company that takes its responsibilities, and its customers, seriously.”