UL International Germany GmbH

One Certification Program – Two Countries - US and Canadian Flotation Device Certification Programs Move towards Harmonization

Harmonizing Standards
We are living in a rapidly changing world. With continued globalization and the explosion of electronic media, we are becoming more connected every day to people around the globe. These connections further increase global production and expand global markets. In fact, many manufacturers’ source components in one country, build products in another, and then distribute their products in many others. Global trade is growing at a rapid pace due to modern production techniques, highly advanced transportation systems, outsourcing of manufacturing and quick industrialization.

In order to be sold, these products must meet the requirements of multiple countries, which include meeting local safety standards.

Complying with multiple standards can be costly, slow down product launches, result in redundant testing and, if requirements are mutually exclusive or conflicting, may require that manufacturers produce different product models for each market they choose to service. Conversely, requirements or guidelines comprising of different standards that apply to the same industries, devices or initiatives (such as efficient energy use) often overlap, creating confusion and possibly redundant requirements — worse still, in some instances they conflict.

The goal of harmonization is to find commonalities between national standards, identify critical national requirements that need to be retained and provide a common standard for products across markets to facilitate trade, reduce burden on industry, reduce costs and create economies of scale for production, resulting in lower costing goods for consumers and greater competitive for economies. For businesses, harmonization cuts compliance costs and simplifies the process of meeting requirements across markets. It also reduces complexity for those tasked with testing and auditing standards compliance

UL supports harmonization to minimize redundant or conflicting standards where support for such harmonization exists among stakeholders.

There are several types of harmonization that take place at UL; international harmonization, regional harmonization or bi-lateral harmonization. The decision regarding the level of harmonization rests with the individual consensus body. 

Globalization has increased industry’s need to gain access to the global market. With increased competition, a more streamlined process that provides access to multiple markets is imperative for survival. This need is no different for manufacturers producing flotation devices such as buoyancy aids, lifejackets, immersion suits, lifebuoys and structural components incorporated within these products. 

So how is this being accomplished between the United States and Canada?

Harmonizing Regulations

 To ease trade barriers between the United States and Canada, in 2011, the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) was formed. The purpose of the RCC was to facilitate closer cooperation between both countries; to develop smarter and more effective approaches to regulation; to make the United States and Canadian economies stronger and more competitive, while meeting the fundamental responsibilities to protect the safety and welfare of the citizens. Leaders from each country recognize that regulatory differences and duplicative procedures impose unnecessary requirements and costs on their citizens, businesses and they reduce the competitiveness of their economies. The RCC includes a variety of sectors, including marine transportation which encompasses life-saving appliances. The scope of the RCC for life-saving appliances includes the development of common life jacket standards to be co-developed by a bi-national consensus body (or technical panel), which includes both Transport Canada (TC) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), industry representatives, boating safety experts, users and consumer representatives. The bi-national harmonized standards were developed using the ISO standards as the base with necessary North American national differences. Although significant amendments were required in order to make the ISO standards appropriate for use in North America, no national differences exist between Canada and the US. The goal will be to eliminate North American differences over time so that North America has similar requirements with the global market.

UL (Underwriters Laboratories), a standards development organization accredited in both Canada and the US, is managing the standards development process and the ongoing maintenance. UL published ANSI/CAN/UL-12402-5:2015, Personal flotation devices - Part 5: Buoyancy aids (level 50) - Safety requirements and ANSI/CAN/UL-12402-9:2015, Personal Flotation Devices - Part 9: Test Methods in 2016. In addition to the aforementioned standards, UL is also developing new lifejacket and immersion suit joint bi-national standards also based on ISO standards.

UL has also taken over the management of both the Canadian Mirror Committee to ISO and the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO so as to continue to align the North American standards with the international ISO standards. It is through the US TAG and the Canadian Mirror Committee that North America can influence the ongoing development and maintenance of the international standards in this area.

Now that the standards have been developed and published, TC and the USCG have agreed to an implementation plan to synchronize amendments to their regulations to adopt the new standards. A combined Canada/U.S. technical panel will ensure the ongoing alignment of the harmonized standard. A TC-USCG Memorandum of Understanding has also been signed to set forth guidelines for cooperation concerning approval, testing and monitoring of the manufacture of wearable life jackets acceptable for use in both Canada and the United States.

Path Forward

Publishing of the bi-national standards between the U.S. and Canada is the first step towards breaking down the trade barriers between both countries. As stated earlier, the bi-national standards are based on the current ISO standards for flotation devices. The purpose for developing standards based on currently published ISO standards is so that the U.S. and Canada can, in parallel, move towards the future adoption of the ISO standards with no national differences. Such processes must be done methodically so that the interests within the U.S. and Canada are taken into consideration. Once accomplished, a majority of the globe will be able to test their flotation devices to a single standard.

About UL

As a global company with more than 120 years of expertise, UL works with customers and stakeholders to help them navigate market complexity. UL brings clarity and empowers trust to support the responsible design, production, marketing and purchase of the goods, solutions and innovations of today and tomorrow. We connect people to safer, more secure, more sustainable products, services, experiences and environments – enabling smarter choices and better lives.

UL is a Recognized Certification Body by the United States Coast Guard and Transport Canada. UL is also a European Notified Body and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Accredited Test House for flotation devices addressed within the Marine Equipment Directive and Personal Protective Equipment Directive.

Standards are essential to public safety and confidence and improve the quality of products and services in the marketplace. UL leads the research and science needed to understand complex safety issues and develop standards. Further, UL brings the right stakeholders together to effectively develop consensus-based standards. We also play a key role in the development and harmonization of national and international standards. As of today, UL has developed more than 1,650 Standards ranging from Standards for Safety to Standards for Sustainability and utilizes the expertise of more than 400 Standards Technical Panels. Visit www.ulstandards.ul.com for more information.

About the author

Chris P. James
Principal Engineer
Distinguish Member of Technical Staff

Chris James is the Principal Engineer at UL for flotation devices which includes buoyancy aids, lifejackets, immersion suits, lifebuoys and structural components for flotation devices.

Through leadership, communication and technical competency, his responsibilities include driving global consistency, integrity and engineering quality in the development, maintenance and application of UL’s certification requirements and delivery of UL conformity assessment services. He currently serves on various UL Standard Technical Panels, NFPA Technical Committees and ISO Subcommittees. He is the current US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) Vice Chair for ISO TC188/SC1, small craft.

Chris has a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Business Administration from the Wilmington University.