The Importance of Approvals and Certifications

Early in the last century, gas detection solutions were limited mostly to simple alarms indicating a hazardous condition. A canary in a bird cage — origin of the famous “canary in the coal mine” phrase — was once the state of the art for gas alarms. Safety and performance standards had not yet been developed, and there was a real need for approvals and certifications for life safety devices.

The formation of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in 1971 signaled the beginning of serious approvals and standards in the United States. Agencies such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI), International Society of Automation (ISA), and National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) create the standards, and OSHA oversees the approved National Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) that test to those standards.

Gas and fire detection is a serious business, and it is imperative that detectors have the proper approvals and certifications to ensure that they will operate as expected.

When selecting a gas and fire solution among a list of top-tier suppliers, facility safety managers should ask the following questions about approvals and certifications:

1. What is the importance of approvals and certifications?

Third-party validation assures that the products meet the regulatory needs to satisfy the local authority having jurisdiction (LAHJ). The LAHJ will approve proper installation based upon compliance to current codes and regulations.

Facility management is responsible for maintaining a safe work environment and is accountable for any accidents that may occur. Installing approved and certified safety systems ensures compliance and minimizes the risk of employees being exposed to a hazardous event.

2. What are the differences in approvals and certifications?

The different types of approvals and certifications include:

  • Quality certifications, such as ISO 9001, assure that approved manufacturers follow published procedures and are in conformance with the International Quality System Standard.
  • Safety-related certifications, such as Safety Integrity Level (SIL) and hazardous location electrical approvals (HAZLOC), allow companies to properly select the equipment that meets the requirements of their installation.
  • Performance-related certifications assure that the instruments have been fully tested and approved by an independent third-party agency to comply with the criteria established by the standards agencies.

An important thing to note is that each NRTL is chartered to perform only a specific set of test protocols. Not all NRTLs are qualified to test to all published standards. Each NRTL must establish what testing it is qualified to perform and will be regularly audited for compliance to those test standards. If the NRTL is qualified to test for an approval, it is also authorized to issue the certificate assuring compliance with that approval.

3. Which approved and certified products are right for my application?

Approvals and certifications vary greatly, depending on the application needs. Each industry can have unique requirements, dictated by the LAHJ, to satisfy current regulations. Specifying engineers must select equipment that is compliant with the codes and regulations. By selecting certified equipment from a vendor that has been NRTL approved, the specifying engineer can be assured that his/her design will meet those regulations, provide a safe work environment, and reduce risk.

Sierra Monitor has made a considerable investment in safety and performance approvals, such as UL 2075, UL 2017, CSA, FM, ATEX, ABS, IECEx, and SIL. These approvals require regular audits by the NRTLs to qualify ongoing compliance with the standards. Sierra Monitor’s Sentry IT gas and flame detection products meet and, in many cases, exceed these approval requirements.

Many gas detection manufacturers use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) explosion-proof enclosures made by other vendors. These enclosures are typically certified by that manufacturer to meet a certain hazardous area classification, but this enclosure approval applies only when it is being used as an empty junction box. The moment another manufacturer inserts an instrument inside that enclosure, the enclosure must be tested and re-certified with the applicable instrument installed. Specifying engineers must check carefully: The identification legend plate on the enclosure does not necessarily apply to what is put inside.

4. What is the value of having approved and certified products?

Approval and certification value can be perceived in different ways, some more tangible than others. Obviously, selling price needs to be considered, but it is not the only way to judge value. Other areas of approval and certification value to be considered include:

  • Reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) over the life of the equipment
  • Less-frequent calibrations due to better performance
  • Situations in which approvals are mandated and not optional
  • Reduction of risk and potential liability by having third-party approvals
  • Possible reduction in insurance and underwriting costs
  • Confidence of reliable and safe operation
  • The potential costs involved in ignoring approved and certified life safety systems

The real question is: Can you afford to ignore approvals?

Sierra Monitor’s Sentry IT fire and gas solutions carry a variety of national, international, and industry-specific approvals and certifications. Sentry IT fire and gas solutions undergo rigorous NRTL validation tests to ensure that they are in compliance with the relevant standards for each particular technology. Validation testing is performed by credible, competent, independent third-party laboratories that have met all of the requirements dictated by OSHA.

Luckily, the days of canaries in cages as gas detectors are long past. Still, it is important to take a little bit of extra time to make sure that the gas and fire detection equipment installed will perform as needed, when it really counts.