There still seems to be a misunderstanding about the responsibility of the purchaser when is comes to personal protective equipment (PPE). As explained in my blog, Who verifies that personal protective equipment (PPE) meets the correct standards, it is and always has been your responsibility to verify PPE meets all standards. From the purchaser to the manager to the wearer of the PPE, as well as the safety manager, facility manager, supervisor, etc. failure to make this determination places the employee at risk of injury. You have the responsibility of obtaining assurance that the PPE complies with the applicable standard. You are responsible for assuring that PPE that makes false claims or that is knock-off or counterfeit is not issued to the employee. It is your responsibility to provide equipment that is suitable for the installation or in the case of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, that the PPE has been evaluated to protect an employee.
There are many pieces of equipment, including PPE, in the electrical industry that are not required to be evaluated (listed) by a third party. Just as in previous editions, the 2018 Edition of NFPA 70E requires that PPE conform to the applicable standards without actually requiring the manufacturer submit the PPE to testing. This is because NFPA 70E is a work practice standard that PPE manufacturers do not have to follow. Since evaluation of PPE to any product standard is not a requirement in many codes and standards that address electrical safety, NFPA 70E took steps in the 2018 edition to provide some guidance to assist you in verifying the manufacturer’s claim of compliance to applicable standards. These are self-declaration, self-declaration under a quality management system, and certification (listing) by a third party. Let’s look at what these mean starting from the most understood to possibly the least understood claim.
Certification by a third party is a common way for equipment to be deemed suitable by a purchaser, authority having jurisdiction, or user of the equipment. This is referred to a Listing in NFPA standards. Within the United States of America (USA), OSHA has a process for accrediting organizations for performing evaluations using specific standards. An evaluation of equipment by an independent party to a published standard removes many apprehensions of someone tasked with approving equipment for use or purchase. It allows for a quick determination that equipment is indeed suitable for the use and that it complies with the minimum requirements of the applicable standard. As part of listing, the independent party also audits manufacturing sites to have continued assurance that equipment built over a period of time is identical to what was originally listed. If materials, manufacturing processes, or drawings are different that submitted for the certification, the listing of the equipment may be withdrawn until the “new” version is determined to comply with the standard. Equipment may be listed as complying with many standards. It is also your responsibility to verify that the equipment purchased has met the correct standard.
Self-declaration (Declaration of Conformity (DoC)) is possibly the second most understood of the conformity allowances. This is simply a statement by the manufacturer that the equipment meets a standard. You must be competent enough to know if the specified standard is applicable to the final product. Some standards evaluate fabric only, not the final product (i.e., shirt, pants) that is made of the fabric. A separate standard may be necessary to address the testing of the final product. There is no external oversight of the testing, manufacturing or raw material procurement process under this system. The manufacturer may or may not be able to conduct tests or evaluate the final product for compliance with the applicable standard. Neither prohibits them from supplying this DoC. Outside of the USA, a DoC is a legal document declaring that the equipment complies with the specific laws of the governing country. Some of those DoCs may only cover recycling of the equipment. Those DoCs do not typically address USA standards including the National Electrical Code® (NEC)®. There are substantial liabilities, fines and imprisonment for falsifying those DoCs. However, within the USA, the DoC is not tied to a legal system although the USA is a highly litigious country. The DoC is as good as the credible company backing it with their reputation.
The least understood of the conformity methods is a DoC under a registered quality management system and product testing by an accredited laboratory. A registered quality management system (typically IS0 9000 series) requires documentation of many company functions. Documentation of an engineering change order system for document revisions, of test and inspection procedures, and of returned equipment are examples of topics addressed. This quality system typically does not address required safety standards for the equipment being manufactured but only that documentation is in place to have a manufacturing process followed. The accredited laboratory portion of this method is not necessarily an independent testing laboratory. Many registered quality management companies have an accredited on-site laboratory to conduct evaluations and testing of their products by company employees. The credibility of the manufacturer is once again an important factor with this type of DoC.
Delivery of one of these conformity methods does not absolve you of the responsibility for determining the validity of a claim. You must be competent to understand the standard applicable to the purchased PPE, the correctness of the claim, the validity of the test results, or verification of a listing mark. No matter which conformity assessment you request there will be non-compliant PPE or counterfeit versions of a credible manufacturer’s PPE. False claims may be made. A transient company may market PPE and provide a false listing or DoC to take advantage of a growing market. A company producing counterfeit PPE will provide an apparently valid DoC or listing mark. The “same” arc-flash suit that is substantially less expensive than from a reputable manufacturer or distributor can be purchased from some online party. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) is the rule for anything you purchase but it is even more important when someone’s life is at risk. The approved vendor or distributor, reputable manufacturer, DoC and product listing organization is there for a reason. For the protection of your employee you must do some homework before purchasing the PPE. That requirement has not changed.
Next time: A normal operation quiz.
Please Note: Any comments, suggested text changes, or technical issues related to NFPA Standards posted or raised in this communication are not submissions to the NFPA standards development process and therefore will not be considered by the technical committee(s) responsible for NFPA Standards development. To learn how to participate in the NFPA standards development process and submit proposed text for consideration by the responsible technical committee(s), please go to www.nfpa.org/submitpi for instructions.