According to OSHA, all involved with mechanical systems--owners, engineers, installers and operators--directly or indirectly share liability for the protection of workers.



Issue: 10/03

OSHA regulations issued more than 30 years ago caused a paradigm shift in accountability for worker safety. Under the law, all involved with mechanical systems--owners, engineers, installers and operators--directly or indirectly share liability for the protection of workers. In addition to OSHA requirements and third party certification, this article lays out practical considerations and consequences for those who design, install, and own packaged pump systems used in industrial, commercial, institutional, and municipal facilities.

The Law

What constitutes a system is precisely defined and includes the simplest assembly of subsystems. OSHA defines a "system" as a combination of two or more components that operate together. For example, a system is: a tank fabricated to ASME standards, used with welded steel header components manufactured to ANSI standards, connected to a water pump built under Hydraulic Institute standards. Pump stations are the sum of their component systems or parts, manufactured for a specific, intended use, and comprised of components that meet a range of accepted national or international standards.

As the federal agency administrator, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has preemptive power over state and local efforts to regulate the workplace. Indeed, Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. OSHA has approved and monitors such plans for more than half the states.1

The agency's mandate "ensures every working man and woman safe healthful working conditions." Packaged pump systems must comply with OSHA 29 CFR 1910.399, which defines in detail the role of independent third party Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) certification and the acceptability of a "labeled," "listed" system for its intended, installed use.2

Federal Standard Part 1910.301, Subpart S "Electrical Standards" requires all products used in the workplace to be "listed."3 This Federal Register subpart addresses electrical safety requirements that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of employees in their workplace and is based on the National Fire Protection Association's 1971 National Electrical Code (NFPA 70), Article 90-7, "Examination of Equipment for Safety," which states:
"It is the intent of this Code that the factory-installed internal wiring or the construction of equipment need not be inspected at the time of installation of the equipment, except to detect alterations or damage, if the equipment has been listed by a qualified electrical testing laboratory that is recognized as having the facilities described above and that requires suitability for installation in accordance with this Code."

The Role of NRTL System Listing Laboratories

Mechanical and electrical systems that comprise a tested and installed pump station must be certified. Third party certification of pump systems must be performed by laboratories that are independent of standards-setting authorities, manufacturers, fabricators, or designers operating under those standards.4 OSHA requires that systems be third party-certified through a network of Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs). There are approximately 17 NRTLs5 with over 40 sites operating in the U.S., Europe, Canada and the Far East. OSHA accredits NRTLs for five years. These are testing laboratories like UL, FM, ETL, etc. Product testing laboratories can help to provide this quality assurance function. The increase in product liability suits has encouraged manufacturers to take additional steps to verify the safety characteristics of their products.6

According to 29 CFR 1910.303(a): "The conductors and equipment required or permitted by this subpart shall be acceptable on it if approved...'Approved' means...an installation or equipment is acceptable...and approved within the meaning of this subpart S: (1) If it is accepted, or certified, or listed, or labeled, or otherwise determined to be safe by a National Recognized Testing Laboratory...."

Today, all installed pump stations must be third party-labeled NRTL, whether site- or factory-built. "A listing confirms we have evaluated a representative system and found that it conforms to the applicable standard for safety. It further indicates that continuing production is under factory follow-up service, wherein the Intertek representative periodically conducts unannounced examinations of the listed product and the factory's quality system," states Bill Fiske, director of engineering at Intertek (ETL), an NRTL.

Third party-certified Packaged HVAC System. (Courtesy of TigerFlow.)

Site-Built or Packaged

Regulations aside, the single source responsibility offered in a factory-built pumping system takes much of the guesswork out of the design, manufacture and installation processes. A factory can consolidate both specialized manufacturing and system QC operations, in addition to ensuring OSHA and (in many cases) more stringent state compliance. The idea of a factory-built and tested system with full performance and compliance documentation prior to delivery on-site saves time and money. Factory certification eliminates on-site compliance delays and costs, reducing time for both system installation and subsequent site approvals. Cost of owner insurance may also be reduced. At the jobsite, a factory-built pump station eliminates troublesome local compliance punch lists and red tagging. Total system third party certification, UL 508 Panels, ASME Code Section 9 Welding, and factory testing before shipment constitute the ultimate benefit of a packaged pump system that is factory-built and tested.

On-Site or Factory Certification?

OSHA allows for both on-site and factory certification. So, this question can be answered by reviewing a representative standards list typically applicable in the manufacture of a packaged pump system.

Packaged pump system component certifications may include:

  • ANSI/UL 508 Electric Industrial Control Equipment
  • NFPA Pamphlet 70 National Electrical Code
  • NFPA Pamphlet 20 Centrifugal Fire Pumps
  • ASTM F336, Vol. 09.02 Gaskets for Severe Corrosive Service
  • ASTM G74, Vol. 14.2 Dynamic Pressure Testing of O-Rings

Where the logistics of a certification process can be a major obstacle on a jobsite, it is of negligible consequence to a factory-produced packaged system manufacturer using quality components. Reputable packaged pump system manufacturers embrace standards and certifications as part of their value-added proposition to the system owner.

Additionally, single source responsibility for both performance and compliance is always better than finger-pointing on a jobsite.

Third party-labeled packaged system for a fire protection application. (Courtesy of TigerFlow.)

Be Certain Your Factory-Built System Complies

A manufacturer who has been NRTL certified must provide evidence of compliance in the form of a mark applied to the equipment--usually a permanent metal plate--and a listing by an approved NRTL. Due diligence to confirm any manufacturer's current NTRL standing is as easy as doing a look-up on the listing laboratory's Web site, searching by company or product category. Special packaged systems, like those delivered for fire protection or medical applications, have unique certification requirements. It is always a good idea to cross-check a manufacturer's standing, independent of the manufacturer's product labeling or claims.

A packaged pumping systems manufacturer may be NRTL certified by UL, ETL or any NRTL-certified lab for components that meet other required standards, such as:

  • ANSI/UL 778 Water Pumps
  • ANSI/UL 1074 Electric Motors
  • ANSI/ASME B73.1M-1990
  • ANSI/ASME B73.2M-1990 Horizontal End Suction or Vertical-Inline Centrifugal Pumps for Chemical Process
  • ANSI/ASE J745.APR87 Hydraulic Power Pump Test Procedure
  • UL 448 for Pumps for Fire Protection Service
  • UL 218 for Fire Pump Controllers


The Consequences

Headlines tell the story:

OSHA Targets Construction. Almost half of all OSHA and equivalent state programs target the construction industry. According to documents provided to the Advisory Committee On Construction Safety and Health at its January 5th meeting in Washington, DC, several regional OSHA offices have drawn up local programs, says the Construction Labor Report. Red tagging on a construction site impacts overall project costs in many ways: in lost interest paid on extended construction loans, revenue loss from project delays, and project cost overruns for labor and equipment.

OSHA Fines Are Stiff. While overall safety reported for 2001 has dropped to the lowest level--5.7 cases per 100 workers--since the U.S. began collecting this information7, it can be said that inspections and fines are having the intended consequences. A single violation that an employer intentionally and knowingly commits can carry penalties of $5,000 to $70,000. In 2002, 37,493 federal inspections resulted in over $72.8 million8 in assessed penalties. States performed 58,402 inspections in the same year and assessed over $75.8 million.9

At least one state provides for supplemental judicial enforcement by allowing the State Attorney General, district attorneys, city attorneys, city prosecutors or "any person in the public interest" to file civil lawsuits against alleged violators. California Proposition 65 provides for penalties of up to $2,500 per day, per violation. A private plaintiff may obtain up to 25% of penalties levied against a company found in violation of Proposition 65 for failing to provide required warnings. Private actions with regard to occupational exposures have been brought in California courts, and many more have been settled on varying bases prior to trial or prior to initiation of formal court action.10

Even if you're a small employer, you'd better be in compliance!11 In fiscal year 2002, 46% of all federal OSHA inspections were conducted on employers with fewer than nine employees. These small business employers paid a whopping $25,128,094 or 32% of all federal OSHA fines. The 26 states and territories that conduct their own inspections usually conduct twice as many inspections as OSHA in a given year.

Non-Compliance Is a Crime

In one case, Stuart Matrix, president of Lancaster Battery Co., was sentenced to 2-1/2 years and fined $30,000 for non-compliance. OSHA, state and local district attorneys have the authority to prosecute. Say, for example, an unlisted electrical product has a faulty ground wire that breaks free and a worker is electrocuted. Enter OSHA and the local D.A.

Non-Compliance Leads to Lawsuits

Under the law, all involved with mechanical systems12--owners, engineers, installers and operators--directly or indirectly share liability for the protection of workers. Company and employees can be sued. An owner is liable for injury in the installation, operation or maintenance of a pumping system, but responsibility and liability can be shifted if it can be shown that the designer (engineer, contractor, representative), installers or manufacturers had easily available and economically viable alternatives to receive third party certification. Cases can involve a manufacturer or distributor in a tort action.

Even though workers may be precluded from suing employers by Workers' Compensation statutes13, in an analysis of civil cases in the 75 largest counties, plaintiffs won in 62% of bench trials and received an estimated $629 million in compensatory and punitive damages. In federal courts, plaintiffs only won 45% of the tort cases brought to trial. In 8% of these cases, damages assessed were over $10 million.14

Beyond the Legalities

Since OSHA's inception in the early 1970s, the overall worker injury/illness rate has fallen by about 45%. In those industries where OSHA has targeted its inspections, such as construction, there have been even greater improvements.15 Even so, liability and risks remain significant for all involved in mechanical systems specification. The benefits of a factory-built packaged pump system were numerous before federal mandates. The certification process has served to further consolidate the owner-contractor decision to specify mechanical systems from a single certified manufacturing source.

In practical terms, the OSHA requirement that an installed system be independently certified for its intended use merely codified a growing trend toward standardization. Evolving local, national and international standards have resulted in a sea-change in manufacturing efficiencies at "listed" factories that specialize in manufacturing packaged pump systems. The ultimate effect of the OSHA standard has been to place the logistical "pain" associated with evermore stringent standards where it should be: in the hands of reputable, accountable single source manufacturers.