Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Safety Equipment Standards Are Used in Certification of Products

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

How Safety Equipment Standards Are Used in Certification of Products

Article excerpt

In the Winter Protection Update, we discussed how safety equipment standards establish requirements. But, how does a supplier communicate to the purchaser and user that its product, process or service conforms to a standard. This is the purpose of certification.

Simply put, certification involves testing to an established standard, and providing a mark or some other indication of conformity.

Certification testing may be done by a government agency such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA); the product manufacturer, either at its own facility or a contract testing lab, or by an independent, third-party assessor.

Government certification programs exist in the United States mostly when public health and safety are involved. For example, the FDA tests and certifies new drugs and medical devices before they are allowed on the market, and NIOSH tests and certifies respirators and breathing apparatus.

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In the United States, a manufacturer's self-certification is the most common approach. Manufacturers test their products, or have them tested, and declare that they meet the standard. This may be a label on the product--often in a form required by the standard--as well as information provided in packaging, literature and advertising.

This system often seems mysterious to the rest of the world, accustomed to more rigorous government oversight and regulation. But self-certification works in the United States for several reasons. We have a legal system that severely penalizes products that do not measure up, a consumer base that generally is well informed and vigilant, a market large enough to give those consumers a wide choice of products, and laws that govern truth in labeling and advertising.

It's important for the purchaser to be well-informed. A product bearing the mark of a standard is supposed to have been tested and evaluated, and meet all the requirements of the standard. But if there is any question--for example, if the product's manufacturer is not identified or unfamiliar--the purchaser can ask for documentation of test results to be sure

Where self-certification will not satisfy the market demand or regulatory requirements, manufacturers and users rely on third-party certification. In this case, an independent organization conducts ongoing testing of a product to see if it meets the performance requirements of a recognized standard. It also may require an assessment of the company's quality systems to ensure that the manufacturer's internal production controls are designed and operated so that every product that comes off the line will meet the standard's requirements. When these conditions are met, the third party grants the manufacturer the use of its certification mark.

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This is the most common method of certification outside the United States, and in some U.S. markets, as well. For example, the UL mark of Underwriters Laboratories is familiar on electrical products. In the safety equipment marketplace, the most familiar certification marks are the SEI mark of the Safety Equipment Institute, the CSA mark in Canada, and the CE mark that indicates conformity with European requirements.

The SEI is the only third-party certification organization in this country dedicated to safety equipment. …

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