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Specifications: product selection process

5. Regulation filter

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5.1 Decision makers

These are the regulators of course, including local (e.g. local authorities), national (e.g. CLG), European (e.g. European Parliament), and international (e.g. CITES, Montreal Protocol, WTO). Regulators inform designers and others via legislation, regulation, communications campaigns, and registers of approved or non-approved products.

5.2 Public participation

The public, mostly through NGOs, often lobbies regulators. Recent examples are WWF's and Greenpeace's campaigns on REACH, European legislation dealing with registration, evaluation and authorisation of (mostly industrial) chemicals – many of which are used in construction.

5.3 Lobbying by the manufacturer

Manufacturers need to prove that their products do meet regulatory performance requirements, e.g. independent tests to relevant standards for CE Marking of products, and at a bigger scale, fire tests on 3 storey residential timber framing & unprotected steel frames in car parks (a pair of Australian examples). Such tests are costly. Legality of products varies with application, e.g. combustibility (is the product in a firewall or not?), and with jurisdiction, e.g. durability (regulated in New Zealand but not the UK).

5.4 Selection/ deselection

Regulatory deselection comes in the form of bans (e.g. most types of asbestos, CFCs) and controls (e.g. UFF cavity insulation, in E&W Building Regulations Approved Document D Toxic substances). Selection comes in the form of statutory registers of approved products, involving third party product certification, e.g. BEAB Approved Mark, and CE Mark. Local Authority Building Control (LABC) has a register of type approvals for houses, buildings, systems and products.

5.5 Appeals

If you are convinced that a deselected product meets the regulations, then provide more proof! Regulators do change their minds from time to time. Just because a product isn't on a register does not mean that it doesn't meet regulatory requirements – it might just mean that the manufacturer hasn't paid for the relevant tests and certification, often because they are not aware that the register exists. Designers can usefully draw this to their attention.

5.6 Enforcement

Though regulations are enforced by various agencies, such as building control, some noncomplying products get through from time to time. One example is black-market CFCs (not an issue in the UK), another is widespread use of timber species protected by CITES (due to difficulties in tracking timber to source), and another is the struggle building control officers had to enforce the new E&W Approved Document Ls in 2006 (lack of relevant training). Problems of this latter kind are likely to increase, with the increasing regulatory burden.

5.7 Generic vs brand

Regulations typically describe products generically, e.g. by reference to BSs, or BS ENs – for both selection and deselection. However they can describe by brand, e.g. European Technical Approvals (see EOTA website), product registers – but this is for selection only (one doesn't usually find lists of proprietary products that are banned). Of course some products are totally unregulated, and some are only regulated in terms of their safety, but not in terms of other parameters. The CE Mark is one such mechanism, so a product with a CE Mark does not necessarily meet any functional requirements – it is merely 'safe'.

5.8 Standards and certification

Various aspects of this have been mentioned already. This is an important aspect of the regulation filter.

5.9 Key points

Decision makers include regulators (from local to international).

NGOs such as Greenpeace are geared to lobbying of regulators.

Lobbying by the manufacturer includes demonstrations of regulatory compliance (track record, test results).

Regulators can ban, control or approve products.

Regulators can be persuaded to change their minds about products, but this works both ways. Approved products may become un-approved as new evidence comes to light. Regulation is generally moving towards greater, rather than lesser, restriction.

Regulators enforce through local authority building control (whose remit is generally being extended) and other agencies.

Products are generally regulated by class (generically). The exception is registers of approved products.

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