You’ve probably purchased plenty of home appliances and equipment that feature a safety seal. While we often take these seals for granted, every certified product passed rigorous testing to meet both government and industry standards. In addition to home appliances and equipment, these laws also apply to industrial equipment to reduce industrial accidents. Over the past several decades, industry and government leaders have joined forces to make the workplace safer for industrial workers and incentivize employers to take safety seriously.
Data also shows that these precautions are effective as workplace fatalities decreased over the century and have remained relatively constant over the past several years.
A Brief History of Workplace Safety
Before industrial regulations existed, factory owners and other industrial employers had no incentive to offer quality working conditions. Safety equipment is expensive, and family members rarely won legal battles for workplace fatalities. In addition, the surge in immigration made it easy to replace employees. As a result, working conditions in the U.S. were extremely poor, and in 1913, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 23,000 industrial deaths of 38 million workers.
Muckrakers, progressive reformers, and journalists began to write about the horrors of industrial workers in the U.S., and it soon became a public concern.
As a result, several safety organizations formed, and workplace safety laws were passed. Employers became legally responsible for their employees, and workplace deaths and injuries declined drastically. From 1933 to 1997, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that the number of industrial deaths decreased by 90 percent.
While workplace safety is an ongoing journey, four key organizations have contributed significantly to workplace safety.
What Does UL Stand For?
The UL (Underwriters Laboratory) is an international certification company approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to test and certify industrial equipment and home appliances. The UL was established in the late nineteenth century and now has testing facilities in over 100 countries, making it one of the largest certification companies worldwide.
Whenever a manufacturer creates a new product, they send it to one of the UL certification testing facilities to obtain certification. At the facilities, they test each product to ensure that it really can withstand the pressure it is advertised to, that the structure is secure and that the product is generally safe for use.
Depending on how the product fairs during the tests, it is sent back to the manufacturer for improvements or placed in one of the three categories, UL listed, UL recognized, and UL classified. There is no single test that makes a product or part UL approved, as each of these certifications stand for approval in various circumstances.
UL recognized stamps are exclusively for parts rather than finished products. For example, a circuit board that will be used to create another product would be UL recognized. Some UL recognized parts might also have various smaller parts that are UL recognized.
Therefore, most products that cannot perform an end task are placed in the UL recognized category. UL recognition stamps are also generally easier to obtain than UL listed stamps.
Each part that is approved for a UL recognized stamp has a physical seal on it. The seal looks like a backward “R” and “L.” If the letter “C” is next to the logo, the part passed the Canadian test, and if “US” and “C” surround the logo, the part is approved for both Canada and the United States. No letters next to it signify it is approved for the United States.
UL listed is the title given to all end products that are approved by the UL. Obtaining this seal requires more rigorous testing. It has to perform as advertised and have zero risk of fire or electric shock in a Division 2 environment. A Division 2 environment is any area that contains other flammable substances.
When you purchase a UL listed product, you can rest assured that it has been thoroughly tested to successfully perform the task it is advertised to do.
All UL classified products are tested in a specific environment for a specific hazard, such as a casualty or fire. However, a UL classified stamp accounts only for that particular test and does not signify that it passed any other general safety standards outlined by the UL listed standards.
For example, a UL classified product may have only been tested under limited hazardous conditions.
While there is no such thing as “UL Approved,” having one of the UL seals can help boost your product’s value and is a valuable marketing tool.
What Are OSHA Regulations?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an organization created in 1970 by the United States government as part of the
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
(OSH) Act. Its purpose is to keep all industrial workers safe by requiring secure working environments. Specifically, OSHA protects private-sector workers and local, state, and federal government workers. They do not cover self-employed workers or immediate family members.
OSHA requires employers to provide extensive training for hazardous equipment, keep records of all work-related accidents, conduct environmental tests, and send accident and routine maintenance data to OSHA.
One of their biggest contributions is ensuring that all equipment is safe to use.
OSHA regulates how industrial equipment is transported, stored. For example, OSHA regulates how gas cans are stored, transported, and made. For example, their laws concerning gas cans state that each container must be under 5 gallons, contain a “flash arresting screen, spring-closing lid and spout cover and so designed that it will safely relieve internal pressure when subjected to fire exposure.”
For almost every piece of industrial equipment, OSHA has industry standards and performs inspections in workplaces to ensure that employers adhere to regulations.
What Does NFPA Stand For?
A fire department in the United States responds to a call every 24 seconds.
To reduce fire hazards, specifically in industrial settings, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was born. It is a non-profit organization developed in 1896 to raise awareness and reduce fire hazards in the workplace.
One of the NFPA’s greatest contributions to workplace safety is the 300 codes that are now standard practice in industrial buildings internationally.
For example, some codes define how to store and place fire extinguishers, while others describe electrical safety standards.
While many of the NFPA codes are voluntary, OSHA has adopted several as part of their laws and regulations for industrial safety.
As most industrial fires are related to electrical problems, the NFPA also offers electrical certifications and training, which employers and employees can take online.
The NFPA has also invested heavily in fire hazard research, and they offer a robust library of fire accident data. They also offer employers access to fire hazard training certification and even do school trips to educate children on fire safety.
What Does FM Stand For?
FM (Factory Mutual) Approval is a national recognized testing laboratory (non-government operated). Their mission is similar to that of UL in that they test and certify safety equipment to ensure that it is up to standard. However, the most significant difference is that FM Global mainly focuses on fire equipment. Regardless, certification from either of them is synonymous with high quality, durable products.
The majority of the products that the FM tests include electrical equipment, fire protection equipment, building materials, roofing assemblies, and smoke detectors.
To become FM approved, a manufacturer must submit a request to have the product tested. FM Approvals will send back a proposal, and both parties sign a contract. The item is then tested and reported. If the product passes, the factory must also undergo a surveillance audit. Only then can the product be marked with the approved status.
FM Global also offers several free resources to help companies make safer workplace choices.
For example, their Resilience Index is free data that allows companies to compare risk in over 130 countries. This data offers valuable insight into what makes some countries more resilient than others and how employers can apply the data to make better decisions in their own business.
They also offer free loss prevention apps that help employers mitigate risk and analyze potential hazards.
The Future of Workplace Safety
While workplace fatalities and equipment malfunctions have declined, industrial workplace and equipment safety is an ongoing discussion. These organizations collect and analyze workplace data and statistics to learn how accidents occur and how to create regulations that would prevent future disasters.
Surprise workplace visits and inspections by government officials help enforce regulations, and employees are also empowered to report unsafe conditions. While there is always room for improvement, these organizations have taken steps in the right direction to reduce workplace hazards.