From a legal perspective, the manufacturer of electrical goods is the entity which is primarily responsible for designing and manufacturing equipment so that it complies with the safety requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994.
Understanding the concept of safety
In simple terms, it should be in the highest degree unlikely that an item of electrical equipment should cause injury to humans or domestic animals or damage to property. For practical purposes, this means that it needs to be constructed according to sound engineering principles and, in particular, that it needs to provide sufficient protection against electric shock. This may be achieved through the use of earthing or insulation (or both) or by any other means which can reasonably achieve this purpose.
Accepted standards and safety
Various bodies have set out standards relating to the safety of electrical equipment and an article of electrical equipment which complies with these standards can be presumed to be safe. These standards include: harmonized standards (agreed by the national standards bodies of EU member states); international standards (set down by the International Electrotechnical Commission) and national standards, (set down by a standard body in the UK or in another EU member state but not agreed by EU members as a whole).
The hierarchy of standards
Manufacturers of electrical equipment should aim to look for relevant standards using the hierarchy listed above. If none of the standards bodies above has published a standard which is relevant to the item of electrical equipment which is being manufactured, the manufacturer may still proceed to manufacture the item but must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the product is safe to use per the above definition of safe. This allows manufacturers to produce innovative electrical items which might not (yet) be covered by published standards.
The fact that something is possible does not necessarily mean that it is recommended and manufacturers in this situation might want to have their product assessed for safety by a notified body. While this might add on extra time to the pre-market process it could be time well spent if the relevant body picks up on something you’ve missed. It could also prove valuable if your product is challenged by an enforcement authority.
The requirement for appropriate documentation
The law requires manufacturers of electrical equipment to provide substantial documentation for their goods. In simple terms, this documentation must describe the item, give full and accurate details about its design, manufacture and operation and explain how the manufacturer has concluded that it complies with the relevant standards (or, at the very least, has been confirmed to be safe). Even if the equipment is manufactured outside the EEA, the supporting documentation must be kept within the EEA so that it is easily accessible to relevant authorities, and it must be stored for at least ten years after the related equipment has ceased to be produced.