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Machinery Regulations respond to the rise of AI

In 2006, the European Machinery Directive (Directive 2006/42/EC) was introduced to ensure safe machinery in the EU market while allowing for the free movement of such machinery. The directive promoted the inherently safe design and construction of machinery, as well as proper installation and maintenance. However, the ever-increasing impact of the internet on our lives and the rise of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics have presented new safety challenges that were not addressed in the original directive.

To tackle these challenges, on 21 April 2021, the European Commission proposed a new regulation on machinery products as part of its wider artificial intelligence package. The proposed revision aims to enhance safety for traditional technologies, ensure a more coherent interpretation of scope and definitions, reassess high-risk machines and conformity assessment procedures, reduce paper-based requirements for documentation, ensure coherence with other product safety legislation, and avoid divergences in interpretation stemming from transposition.

Though the EU Withdrawal Act preserved the implementation of the 2006 Directive through the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008, it is worth noting that the new regulation will apply to EU member states only and will not apply to the UK without the introduction of new UK legislation to that effect.

On 15 December 2022, the European Parliament and European Council reached a provisional agreement on the new regulation. Following this, the European Permanent Representatives Committee approved the agreement on 25 January 2023, and the European Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) approved the agreement on 2 March 2023 by 36 votes in favour and one abstention.

The next step will be a vote in plenary on the European Parliament's first reading position, which is expected to take place shortly. Once adopted, the new regulation will be a significant step in ensuring the safety of machinery products in the EU market, with a particular focus on Artificial Intelligence.

Post-Brexit, the UK Government has the freedom to decide whether to align itself with the EU or pursue its own path. A recent Government white paper on AI regulation suggests that the UK may diverge from the EU’s standpoint. Rather than taking a broad approach encompassing all sectors, the UK Government is prioritising the empowerment of existing regulators to develop tailored approaches that suit the applications of AI in their sectors. The Government has outlined five guiding principles for AI usage: safety, transparency, fairness, accountability, and contestability.

This approach is intended to allow the UK's rules to adapt as the technology develops, ensuring public protections without hindering businesses from using AI technology to deliver “stronger economic growth, better jobs, and bold new discoveries that radically improve people's lives”. UK regulators will provide practical guidance and resources to organisations in the next 12 months, and when parliamentary time allows, legislation could be introduced to ensure regulators consistently consider the five principles.

This approach will mean the UK’s rules can adapt as this fast-moving technology develops, ensuring protections for the public without holding businesses back from using AI technology to deliver stronger economic growth, better jobs, and bold new discoveries that radically improve people’s lives.

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