How to Ensure That Safety Products Do What They Claim
The vast majority of the time, you buy a product and you expect it to work as the manufacturer claims it will. In order to find out, you use it: you plug in the television and turn it on; you start the car and take it for a test drive; you sit in the chair and see if it holds you. But, when it comes to safety products, if trying them out is the only way to test them, a failure of the test means injury – or worse – to the employee. So how do you know that something is going to perform as the manufacturer claims?
First and foremost, be wary of claims that any products are "OSHA Approved!" Let me be very clear about this: OSHA approves NO products. OSHA does not review product specs, test products, endorse products, or anything of the sort. What OSHA does do, is provide specifications that products must meet and/or refer to testing standards to which the manufacturers must adhere. If you see something stamped "OSHA Approved" then this should immediately raise a red flag. Discuss with the manufacturer or distributor just what that means. If they can't answer it, you may want to seek out the product elsewhere.
Use reputable companies. This is a sound piece of advice in many aspects of life. If you are doing research on the internet for your next big stock purchase, you'd choose information put out by Bloomberg Financial Markets over a report by crazywallyknowzaboutmoney.com (at least I hope you would). If you want to buy a car, you're probably going to go to a dealer that you know or were referred to over that guy in the plaid pants and greasy hair that's got a parking lot full of cars that were all previously owned by an old lady that only drove them to church on Sunday. Safety equipment should be no different. Look for the manufacturers you know and, if you're not aware of them, do your research by searching for them online (just not at Crazy Wally's). If I wanted a harness, I'd probably be looking at Guardian, FallTech, MSA, DBI Sala or somebody like that before I purchased one from NoFallz Fall Protection.
Look for the ANSI stamp. Every product should be tested in accordance with the applicable ANSI standards. Your safety glasses need to meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard, your fall protection needs to meet the Z359 and A10 standards, and so on. When they do, they get marked with that ANSI number. You can then purchase the standards to see exactly what testing is done to ensure the quality of the product you bought. But, even if you don't want to take it that far, at the very least you want to see the ANSI stamp. Without it, you cannot be sure how the product was tested, or if it was tested at all.
Test it yourself. Some things will not require further tests, though you could choose to do so. Others, like safety nets will require testing. For those that require testing through OSHA, the regulations lay out exactly what needs to be done. For instance, a safety net is required to be drop-tested after installation. This is not something you can make up on the fly. It is specifically laid out at 29 CFR 1926.502(c)(4)(i) – right down to weight and diameter of the sand bag you need to use and the height from which it must be dropped. Ensure that you follow the tests exactly as stated in the regulation to ensure not only your employees' safety, but to protect your company, as well, from the lawsuits that could arise due to your failure to comply.
Finally, ask questions. Your distributor should be an expert in the products he or she is selling. Ask as many questions as you need to ask to ensure you are getting what you believe you are purchasing. Ask for product specs, comparisons between different manufacturers (though be wary of the fact that they often get more incentive to sell one brand over another), and any issues they may have come across in the past. And, if you're talking about a product that may not be as off-the shelf as a harness, such as a modular work platform, see if your supplier will provide you with another client of theirs who has been using the product so you can get a first-hand testimonial.
When you buy safety equipment, you're usually hoping it will be worn or installed, but never used. However, if the time comes where it needs to perform its intended function, you'd better hope it works. You can greatly reduce the chances of any problems before you even spend a dime by following this advice, but whatever you do, don't leave it up to chance.