Buyer Beware! Plank has been fraudulently labeled and sold, creating potential safety hazards. Understanding the approval and accreditation process is the first step in avoiding purchases that put workers in danger.
By Susan Scheuer and Michael Gilleran
Over the years, the scaffold and access industry has seen fraudulent testing data and plagiarized literature being distributed. Most recently, foreign entities have been offering laminated plank in the United States, where there have been some questionable circumstances behind the product testing as well as fraudulent documentation claiming the manufacturer has a third-party inspection agency relationship.
Back in 2012, PFS Corporation learned that a Chinese manufacturer fraudulently put PFS Corporation’s logo on their plank. They sent out an industry wide letter stating they had no relationship with this company. Back in 2008, another Chinese producer labeled their plank as “2.2E Proof Tested” and stamped it “OSHA” inferring compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements; however, according to the APA – The Engineered Wood Association, the plank did not, in fact, meet the OSHA requirements.
For those in the scaffold plank industry, there is “common knowledge” as it relates to scaffold plank.
Such common knowledge consists of things like:
- it must meet minimum performance requirements as it relates to product strength and ability to support the intended loads over given spans;
- it must have proper stamping or identification on the plank, proving that planks are OSHA-compliant; and
- manufacturers must be regularly audited by an independent, third-party inspection agency.
Most in the industry are also likely familiar with the grading process of wood scaffold plank. Solid sawn plank, for example, is typically a visually graded product, and persons performing the grading of the planks must be trained and certified. The Southern Pine Inspection Bureau (SPIB) is the most commonly recognized certification agency which graders are affiliated for grading Dense Industrial (DI) 65 / solid sawn pine plank.
Manufactured wood plank, such as laminated veneer lumber plank, on the other hand, is mechanically evaluated with special machinery, so the independent, third-party approval process is much different and more complex for accreditation.
Third-Party Accreditation for Scope of Work
Perhaps what is less commonly known is that agencies that perform third-party services must be accredited for the proper “scope of work.” So, what does that mean, exactly? Basically, there are three steps that a manufacturer must take for a wood, composite, or metal plank to become an OSHA-compliant “scaffold plank.”
The manufacturer needs to have the product tested by an independent, third party testing laboratory to determine product-strength properties. The testing laboratory must be accredited to perform the specific testing, the testing must be performed per applicable standards, and results are then used to establish the benchmark for the on-going oversight of production quality control.
The manufacturer then has a qualified engineering firm use the test results determined in the first step to calculate and publish respective span/load tables per the OSHA standards. The engineering firm must also be qualified and accredited to perform this exact scope of work.
The manufacturer aligns with an independent, third party Inspection agency to monitor actual production. This agency must be qualified and accredited to perform this exact scope of work. They review and approve the manufacturer’s in-house quality control manual; are contracted to perform regular, unannounced, audits of production records; and will perform physical testing of the product at the plant location either scheduled or as random unannounced visits.
Some agencies can provide all three services or a manufacturer can have three different agencies perform each of the services separately. Some of the more common testing laboratories that have received proper accreditation from the International Accreditation Service (IAS), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or International Accreditation Forum (IAF) to perform product testing and certification on manufactured wood plank are:
- APA – The Engineered Wood Association (formerly the American Plywood Association);
- PFS Corporation;
- SBC Research Institute; and
- VTT – Technical Research Centre (European).
Some of the more common engineering firms that are accredited by ANSI, IAS, or IAF to evaluate the laboratory test data and create the needed span/load table applicable for the OSHA standards are:
- APA – The Engineered Wood Association and
- DRJ Engineering.
All manufactured plank producers must also have an on-going relationship with an independent, third-party inspection agency that is also accredited by ANSI, IAS, or IAF to perform regular and on-going audits of the actual manufacturing process. Most common inspection agencies that are accredited to review quality control protocol and audit the actual product manufacturing activities are:
- APA – The Engineered Wood Association;
- PFS Corporation; and
- VTT – Technical Research Centre (European).
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the process in which certification – of competency, authority, or credibility is presented. The accreditation process ensures that the providers’ certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance. IAS, IAF and ANSI are all accreditation agencies. They regulate and certify the testing labs, engineering firms, and inspection agencies to ensure they are competent and authorized to provide those services.
In the United States, the IAS, ANSI, and the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) are the most common organizations that provide the accreditation to laboratories, engineering firms, and third party inspection agencies, based upon their “scopes of work.” Outside of the United States, the most common organizations that provide this accreditation are the IAF, the Standards Technical Services – China (SGS), and the Finnish Accreditation Service (FINAS).
International Multilateral Recognition Agreement (MLA)
ANSI, ANAB, and IAS are all part of an international multilateral recognition agreement (MLA) which recognizes worldwide members of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). The IAF MLA is an agreement of the signatories to recognize each other’s accreditation certificates as if they had issued them themselves. By way of example:
- VTT – Technical Research Centre of Finland is accredited by FINAS under both International Standard for Organization (ISO)/ International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 17020 and 17025.
- FINAS is a signatory on the IAF MLA. Therefore, VTT is recognized as a legitimate third party inspection agency in the United States as well as internationally, even though they are based in Finland.
- ANSI and IAS are also signatories to this agreement.
So, how can the industry guard against substandard products? The Scaffold & Access Industry Association (SAIA) has handbooks and other educational documents and tools that help to identify the good from the bad.
Take a “Buyer Beware” stance by asking the supplier to substantiate the product credentials. Do not assume the product qualifies as genuine scaffold grade and meets the applicable standards just because the planks are stamped “OSHA.” Ask suppliers to substantiate the product credentials. Contact the third-party inspection company whose stamp appears on the plank and ask if they are, in fact, the supplier’s third party agency. Ask the supplier or manufacturer for a copy of their liability insurance and have a trusted insurance carrier review the documents and give their assessment. Usually non-credible plank providers will hesitate in providing this information, which should raise a red flag.
Bottom line: “When it doubt, ask!”
About the Authors
Susan Scheuer is in Sales Administration at McCausey Specialty Products and can be reached at email@example.com. Michael Gilleran, Owner, McCausey Specialty Products, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.