Those infamous words may have been spoken by a fictional ne’er-do-well hockey player, but the sentiment is an all too familiar in equipment owners following a field evaluation of unlabeled equipment. No equipment owner wants to receive a non-compliance report on their newly purchased and installed equipment, but according to data collected by Underwriters Laboratory since 2008, 70% of field evaluations reveal safety hazards in need of correction. The equipment owner’s response is a seemingly rightful indignation: “How can a supplier sell such equipment into the U.S.A. without meeting regulatory compliance?”
The simple answer is that it is your right to purchase such equipment from the supplier; however, it also becomes the user’s liability when placing such equipment into the workplace. The U.S.A. operates in an open market where our system of government regulation puts the responsibility of providing a safe and healthy workplace on the employer (i.e. equipment owner or user). This is referred to as the General Duty clause of OSH Act of 1970, Sec. 5 set forth by the U.S. Department of Labor. The specific wording of this law is as followed:
“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
The responsibility to identify and mitigate these workplace hazards are divided between the equipment supplier, the user (i.e. employer), and the operating personnel (i.e. employee). The means to identify and mitigate recognized hazards in equipment are found within the applicable product safety standards. It may be necessary for a third-party agency, such as a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) or Field Evaluation Body (FEB), to perform the process of underwriting that equipment is designed and built in accordance to the appropriate regulatory compliance.
Electrical equipment is acceptable to OSHA if the equipment is inspected or tested by another Federal Agency, or by a State, municipal, or other local authority responsible for enforcing occupational safety provisions of the National Electrical Code (NEC) … enter the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
The local city inspector thus becomes the unsuspecting goaltender on this wild slap shot. It is entirely with their scope of jurisdiction, and therefore trained to do-so, in verifying the equipment nameplate is in accordance with the NEC. If any of the required information is missing or out-of-context, or if the equipment is installed outside its conditions of acceptability (i.e. environmental rating), then the local city inspector may base the final acceptance on a Listing or Field Labeling of a third-party agency (per an NRTL or FEB).
It is possible that replacing the equipment with a Listed product is the most effective solution for cost and time – for examples, field labeling of Portable Electric Tools may exceed the cost of the tool itself or implementing remediation of industrial control panel may require parts with long lead times to deliver and install.
Before unpacking the process of Field Evaluation, it may be helpful to ask ourselves another question: “Why would an employer install equipment that does not meet regulatory compliance?” … after all, it is your right to purchase, and insomuch to install, such equipment from the supplier.
There are as many answers to that question as unique applications of user’s, and the following are examples from my experience as reflected in the types of unlabeled electrical equipment – in no particular order and without an implied denigration of the condition:
- Custom Equipment
- Incomplete Equipment
- Modified Equipment
- Used Equipment
- Foreign Equipment (i.e. equipment certified to IEC standards)
Each type of these equipment may be selected to meet on the user’s goal. It is necessary for the user to communicate with a supplier that compliance with applicable safety standards will be required before the equipment can be operated. Some equipment may already be compliant, but not Listed by an NRTL. Some equipment could be made compliant with additional components or modifications. And some equipment details are simply unknown. All this information must be known and incorporated into the economic decision model. For the equipment described above, a Field Evaluation will likely be required to determine and validate the following:
- Suitability for installation and use in conformity with applicable Codes and Standards;
- Mechanical strength and durability;
- Electrical insulation;
- Heating effects under conditions of use;
- Arcing effects;
- Classification by type, size, voltage, current capacity, and specific use; and
- Other factors which contribute to the practical safeguarding of employees using or likely to come in contact with the equipment.
As equipment owners, if safety is not part of the goal for placing electrical equipment into a workplace, then there are more important questions to ask ourselves.