What Are Safety Equipment Standards and Where Do They Come From?

By Shipp, Daniel K. | Occupational Hazards, February 2005 | Go to article overview

What Are Safety Equipment Standards and Where Do They Come From?


Shipp, Daniel K., Occupational Hazards


Standards are an important part of the world of safety equipment. Manufacturers need them to determine the performance requirements for products they design, make and sell, and the test procedures to assess conformity to those requirements. Sellers, purchasers and users need them to select the right product for the job, and understand its application and limitations. Government agencies incorporate them into workplace safety and health regulations.

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But even though standards are a familiar part of everyday commerce, there are some common misconceptions about them. For example, did you know that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) does not develop standards, or that no product can ever be "ANSI approved" or "OSHA approved?" Who is responsible for developing and maintaining standards? How does a product become "approved?" Where does the user go for answers?

Beginning in this issue of Protection Update, we will take a closer look at safety equipment standards, to try to give you a better idea of what they are, how they are related, how they apply to safety equipment, how they are used in product approval and certification, and how they fit into government regulation.

What is a Standard?

Here is one definition:

A standard is a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for a product for common and repeated use.

Let's examine some key words in this definition. Consensus means that standards come from a process designed to make sure everyone's voice is heard, everyone's opinion is considered, and conflicts are resolved where possible. It doesn't mean everyone agrees with everything in the final standard, but that everyone agrees to accept the final result. Recognized body can be a government agency or an organization set up to manage and approve the standards process. Rules, guidelines and characteristics for common and repeated use are the guts of the standard--the critical measures, test procedures and usage guidelines that give users confidence that each product meets the established level of performance.

Standards are common in our lives. Every time you look at your watch you are checking standard time. When you buy a light bulb, you don't need to worry that it will fit the lamp base because there is a standard. When you need a flashlight battery, you don't have to specify the length, diameter, or voltage--you ask for a C or D or AA.

What does this mean for purchasers of safety equipment? Suppose every time you want a hard hat, you have to give your supplier specifications like these:

A 3.6-kg impactor dropped on the helmet at a velocity of 5.5 meters per second will not transmit a force greater than 4,450 Newtons.

A one-kilogram impactor with a 60-degree steel tip, dropped at 5.5 meters per second, will not penetrate to the headform.

The helmet's material cannot burn for more than five seconds after you hold an 800-to- 900-degree flame to it for five seconds.

The helmet will withstand 20,000 volts (root mean square), AC, 60 Hertz, for 3 minutes with no more than 9 milliamperes of leakage.

In fact, you do. This is a summary of the common specifications for industrial head protection for use where there may be an electrical hazard. But all you and your supplier need to know is that the helmet conforms to the American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection, ANSI Z89.1-2003, class E.

That is why we say standards are the shorthand of commerce. They are a common language for the marketplace.

Standards establish compatibility of components and systems, and make it possible to interchange products from different manufacturers safely and effectively.

Standards establish a level of performance for a product, system or process. For PPE, this is the protection the product is designed to provide. …

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