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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Since we are in a testing frame of mind, it’s worth taking a deeper look into third-party testing - what it is, what it isn’t, and what it means to all of us in the industry, whether you are a manufacturer or user of fall protection equipment.

Proving the Claims

Third-party testing is a process in which an accredited independent testing facility subjects a product to a standardized series of tests to ensure it meets the requirements of the manufacturer or other performance-governing body. The results of these tests help direct manufacturers in the design process by identifying strengths and potential weaknesses in the product; they are used to determine product compliance with ANSI or OSHA regulations; and they give peace of mind to the consumer that the performance claims made by the manufacturer are in fact true.

But third-party testing wasn’t always a requirement in the case of fall protection equipment. Until ANSI released the Z359.7 standard in 2011, product compliance testing was left to manufacturers alone, and third-party testing was something manufacturers could choose, but were not compelled, to do. This meant that the validity of the tests were left to each manufacturer, and while the likelihood is that each manufacturer acted in the best interest of the safety of their customers, there was no method in place to ensure testing was consistent and meaningful industry wide.

One of the key factors that Z359.7 brought into fall protection equipment testing was standardization of not only test methods, but full accreditation of the testing lab itself. In order for test results to be meaningful across the globe, those results must be generated in labs that adhere to the rigorous standards of the international ISO 17025 General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories. By requiring labs to meet the ISO standard, ANSI seeks to ensure that the test results of a specific product will be the same, regardless of what country or clime in which the test was performed. With the ever-increasing globalization of manufacturing today, this means that consumers can rest assured of a product’s safety no matter where it was made.

Transparency is Key

Hand-in-hand with testing in ISO accredited labs is the recording and making available the results of those third-party tests. By requiring third-party tests to be available to those who ask, ANSI gives consumers a vehicle to address a potential grievance regarding the performance or safety of a product. This increase in transparency is really a not-so-subtle nudge to manufacturers to maintain their labs’ accreditation, and if after an inquiry it is discovered the test results or facility does not meet ISO (or for that matter ANSI) standards, punitive action can be taken including revocation of ISO accreditation.

By the way, there is an important, seemingly contradictory, detail regarding third-party testing: manufacturers can, in effect, be their own third-party testing lab. How is this possible? ANSI states unequivocally in Z359.7 that, “The manufacturer’s test laboratory may perform testing using a professional engineer that is a qualified person with respect to fall protection,” and that one of the ways a product can be tested to the satisfaction of the standard is that, “The product can be tested at the manufacturer’s [ISO 17025] accredited laboratory and be signed off and stamped by a professional engineer and qualified person in fall protection.” This might seem like the proverbial fox watching the henhouse, but the fact is, manufacturers that perform their own testing are under no less scrutiny than outside labs, and are held to the exact same standard. In many ways, because of the potential of perceived bias, it might be the case that manufacturers are under more scrutiny than an outside lab. The point here is that so long as a lab has been accredited ISO complaint, uses ANSI-specified testing equipment, and tests per ANSI standards, the test results will be the same. This is a very important and positive step forward for the entire industry.

Not All Products Are Tested

In the context of fall protection, it’s important to understand that not all products fall under the ANSI Z359 standards, and subsequently are not required to be tested by an independent third-party (or in-house) testing facility. Guardrails, tool lanyards, ladders, and netting systems are examples of product often mentioned within fall protection that do not currently require ANSI-directed third-party testing. That’s not to say that the products are not tested at all (they are covered under different standards) and are in any way unsafe, just that as of yet, they have not been enfolded into ANSI standards. However, given the amount of change in the industry and the historical expansion of ANSI’s reach, there may be a time in the future where these (and other) products might have their own standard and we have to revisit this conversation once again.