Everyday people want to purchase and work with products that meet the highest safety standards possible. We rely on lawmakers, government agencies, and boots-on-the-grounds inspectors to ensure we live and work in safe spaces. That Herculean task requires the support of numerous not-for-profit outfits to research, assess, and conduct rigorous testing on our behalf. These are three organizations that inconspicuously deliver the safety standards we enjoy today.

What You Need To Know About ASTM International

Founded in 1898 as the American Society for Testing and Materials, this organization pulled together scientists and engineers to solve one of the critical issues of the era — rail breaks. Their combined efforts led to the railroad industry adopted standardized guidelines with regard to the materials used in railroad construction. That single success formed the groundwork for a not-for-profit organization commonly called ASTM International that has evolved over more than 100 years. The ASTM continues to analyze and publish safety standards concerning materials and products, among others. 

The ASTM Internal ranks among the largest voluntary standards outfits in the world with a membership that exceeds 30,000. Its expertise base includes product manufacturers, government officials, academics, and consumers, among others, from more than 140 countries. These world-renowned experts comprise upwards of 12,000 committees tasked with adding to the wealth of knowledge published in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. The publication addresses product use guidelines that include the following.

  • Plastics
  • Adhesives
  • Rubber
  • Iron and steel
  • Nonferrous Metal
  • Construction
  • Textiles

The ASTM has grown so large that it reportedly relies on more than 140 technical writing groups to articulate the evolving annual standards.

How Does ASTM Compliance Work?

The organization is generally a familiar one among people who work in industries that utilize plastics, metals, or adhesives to any substantial degree. Professionals in these sectors are often encouraged to meet  ASTM guidelines. Meeting them can be a rigorous and complex undertaking because the organization publishes thousands of internationally-recognized standards. Although each measure is assigned a unique number, these are their general categories.

  • Specification Standards
  • Test Method Standards
  • Standard Practice Guide
  • Classification Standards
  • Terminology Standards

It’s essential to understand that the ASTM remains an impartial voluntary standards organization with ties to the World Trade Organization. It does not enforce its safety findings or published standards. Many industries lean heavily on the ASTM’s work with lawmakers and government agencies routinely adopting its guidelines.

In terms of compliance, it is more likely that a company’s adherence to ASTM standards passes through safety agencies and general laws to manufacturers and supply chain outfits. As an example, the U.S. Government Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act of 2008 adopted ASTM F-963 as the standard for selling toys in the United States.

What You Need To Know About The NFPA

Dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries, and property losses, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a self-funded international organization established in 1896. After more than a century of devotion to eliminating inherent fire risks that include chemical, electrical, and other dangers, its ranks have swelled to more than 60,000 members. Along with individual membership commitments, over 80 trade and professional organizations participate in its efforts.

In terms of workplace safety, the NFPA publishes upwards of 300 standards and codes that impact the construction, engineering, products, and other aspects of industries in the U.S. and abroad. These rank among the most recognized in commercial settings.

  • National Electric Code (NFPA 70): This standard is adopted on a region-by-region basis and establishes standards for electrical wiring in the U.S. It has been adopted by the National Fire Code and continues to be updated every 3-5 years and republished by the NFPA.
  • Life Safety Code (NFPA 101): This fire safety code has been adopted by 43 states and relied upon by all 50. It addresses minimum building standards and technologies used to reduce injuries and fatalities brought about by fire, hazardous fumes, and heat exposure, among others. At the local level, this standard commonly impacts business owners through its establishment of egress and occupancy limits.
  • Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code (NFPA 30): This standard establishes safeguards with regard to combustible liquids in commercial and industrial environments. It outlines the best practices for storing and handling flammable liquids and has been updated as recently as 2018.

That recent update highlighted 19 unique changes that dealt with items such as nonmetallic intermediate bulk containers, safe distances, and foam-water sprinkler system design, among others. The NFPA 30 hazardous materials mandates cover the following areas.

  • Combustible Dust Flame Propagation and Quenching in Pipes and Ducts.
  • Evaluation of Fire and Explosion Hazard of Nanoparticles.
  • Influence of Particle Size and Moisture Content of Wood Particulates on Deflagration Hazard.
  • Vapor Mitigation Testing Using Fixed Water Spray System.
  • Separation Distances in NFPA Codes and Standards.

The minimum safety standards articulated by the NFPA are an ongoing effort to support lawmakers, government agencies, and private-sector efforts to reduce workplace injuries and property loss.

How Does NFPA Compliance Work?

As a self-funded international organization, the NFPA does not necessarily bring the force of law to workplace safety regulations. Like other purely voluntary outfits, its impartial research and proactive guidelines are often a resource for regulatory bodies. Many of the NFPA findings have translated into enforceable Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. In this sense, NFPA compliance is usually mandated through a workplace safety agency or embedded into state and federal law. Otherwise, compliance remains voluntary.

What You Need To Know About Underwriters' Laboratories Inc.

This not-for-profit safety certification outfit was founded in 1894, and it now publishes more than 1,600 safety guidelines. The UL, as it is commonly referred to, undertakes nearly 100,000 assessments annually, and its certification mark — UL — can be found on products made by more than 71,000 companies. It ranks among the gold standards in safety and enjoys a dedicated workforce that exceeds 11,000 in 170 facilities across 40 nations. An estimated 14 billion products have adorned the UL certification label to date.

What is UL Certification & Why Is It Important?

The primary benefit of UL certification is that it proves that a manufacturer has achieved safe standard competency to consumers. Earning the UL label demonstrates to all parties that an operation’s goods and services rank among their industries most reliable. The UL rigorously tests products to ensure they meet or exceed state and federal regulations. These often include both safety and environmental regulations. In terms of certification, the UL offers three unique designations.

  • UL Listed Service: This is earned by a manufacturer whose products meet or exceed regulatory guidelines.
  • UL Recognized Service: This designation is awarded to products in the supply chain that are used to further other manufacturing processes. It differs from the final products.
  • UL Classification Service: This designation is awarded to manufacturers whose products pass muster and continue to follow through with ongoing testing to ensure compliance.

Companies that want to be recognized as producers of safe products and processes are tasked with reaching out to the UL. While many of the measures used by the UL to certify products are integrated into laws and agency regulations, certification remains purely voluntary. It’s also important to understand that numerous products are rejected by the UL, due to its impartial testing methods. What’s essential for consumers and government purchase agents to recognize is that UL certification ensures a product has been subjected to the highest safety testing available and passed.