During the past 10 years, more than 100 European standards have been published, covering aspects of roofing, cladding and insulation products. Many of these are product specifications, detailing how materials and systems should be tested. The standards themselves do not necessarily state whether or not the results of the tests are satisfactory for the given need. For designers and specifiers, the introduction of European standards sets new responsibilities that all too often are ignored.
European standards are produced on behalf of CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, based in Brussels. Nineteen countries belong to CEN: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Each country is represented by its own national standards organisation, such as the British Standards Institution on behalf of the UK.
All these countries have to comply with the European Standards published by CEN and without any alteration. When a standard is published it is equally applicable in all 19 countries. This is a tall order, recognising the wide divergence in traditions, working practices and climates. Since the standards have to be acceptable to all parties, it is easy to see why the published texts are often vague, ambiguous and not straightforward to use. They are very much the product of a committee.
To assist the reader, many European standards have a set of appendices, or annexes, at the end of the main body of text. These may include references to national and local regulations, worked examples and further data and details. Some standards also have national annexes. These are intended to provide further assistance in specific countries, perhaps where previous experience differs from that of the new European standard. For example, in BS EN 12056-3:2000, national annexes NA to NF are largely a reworking of the old drainage code BS 6367, which otherwise would not have been included in the European standard. The reason these national annexes were not included in the core of the standard is that the other 18 countries generally did not want all the detailed information.
The net effect of having to produce standards applicable to such a wide range of countries is that the length of the standards themselves has increased. For example, for the design of rainwater goods, the length of the standard has increased from 56 pages (BS 6367) to 84 (BS EN 12056-3). For the user of the standard, there is now more cross-referencing to be done, turning from one section to another, as some of the design information is in the core of the standard, whereas other parts are in the national annexes. This all adds to the complexity in working to the new European standards.
The core of the standard and some of the annexes are classified as 'normative'. This means these sections have to be complied with - they are mandatory. Other annexes are referred to as being 'informative'. This means they are there to assist in our understanding - they are instructive clauses. These categories are new and were not previously used in British Standard Codes of Practice.
In Europe the decimal point is generally not used in describing a unit of measure. For example, an insulation board that is 1.2m wide would be described in Europe as 1,2m wide. European standards use the 'decimal comma'. On first sight this can be confusing, particularly for those of us who use a comma to separate thousands from hundreds.
To produce the large numbers of new European standards, often carried out by volunteers working to limited budgets and strict timetables, it is not surprising to find that there are mistakes and errors in the published documents. In particular, some of the diagrams are of poor quality and the associated cross-references are incorrect.
However, since there are 19 countries involved with any future amendments and reissuing of the standards, it would be a big undertaking to reconvene the committees, work through the corrections, reprint the standards and then reissue them.
It is understood that in some cases revisions will not be considered for at least five years after the introduction of the standard.
For those who have purchased standards and are expected to work to them, this is most unsatisfactory. Guidance given by members of standards committees is that the figures and text should be 'used with care'.
Working to the new European standards is not straightforward. It will take time to come to a common understanding of how they should be used, and to this end practical guidance is sought. In an ideal world, the standards would be readily available to all, there would be time to read them, supported by training to improve our understanding and then, most importantly of all, they could actually be used.