Safety Equipment Institute Becomes ASTM Subsidiary

Certification Services and More Offered by SEI
Cicely Enright

Baseball helmets. Eye and face protection for factory workers. Gear for police officers and firefighters.

The Safety Equipment Institute works with testing labs and quality auditors to certify thousands of products such as these, made by more than 150 manufacturers worldwide. For decades, SEI has built their programs on technical standards from organizations like ASTM International.

In April, SEI became a subsidiary of ASTM.

"Bringing SEI into the ASTM family is a clear win-win," said James Thomas, president, ASTM International. "This will blend the strengths of two well-positioned organizations that share a common goal of improving public health, product safety, and consumer confidence."

How It Happened

In 2013, ASTM had already been managing a few of its own certification programs when the two organizations started discussing a pilot program. Over the past few years, the conversation evolved from collaborating on the pilot for just one type of consumer product to a much broader, strategic partnership.

Patricia Gleason, SEI's president, and Brian Meincke, ASTM's assistant vice president of business development, said that they began to uncover similar philosophies, ethics, and approaches. "The more we talked, the more it made sense to both organizations," Gleason said.

SEI staff had already been participating in several ASTM technical committees due to the fact that several SEI programs are built on ASTM standards. SEI staff were - and are - known for their expertise in manufacturing, testing, and certification, with knowledge of mechanical behavior, chemical and biological protection, and more.

As the discussion continued, SEI saw the potential to get much-needed administrative support from ASTM in areas such as human resources, marketing, and more. SEI saw that such a relationship would allow its staff to focus more on building relationships with businesses, laboratories, and other customers and partners.

The ASTM International board of directors voted unanimously to make SEI a subsidiary on April 19 at its biannual meeting.

Gleason, who now also serves as ASTM vice president of certification while retaining the presidency of SEI, said at the time, "This exciting step will bring benefits to SEI and to all of our stakeholders, including end users of certified products, clients, government agencies, associations, and more. We look forward to building on our two organizations' track record of cooperation."

Expanding SEI'S Offerings

On June 14, the newly formed SEI Standing Committee on Certification Programs met to revise and approve operating manuals and procedures for SEI moving forward.

Their actions resulted in the following:

SEI will maintain its product certification offerings, and ASTM International product certification programs are now under SEI.

ASTM International's personnel certification program (in its National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies) and future personnel certification programs will be administered by SEI.

Environment-related offerings, including the development of product category rules and environmental product declarations, will be operated by SEI, though some co-branding with ASTM International will remain.

Gleason said, "We are excited to build on SEI's decades-long track record by offering new certification and declaration capabilities. My hope is that potential partners see that SEI, now part of the ASTM International family, is positioned to work with them more than ever before."

How SEI Works

As SEI expands its offerings, it will build on a proven approach to meeting the needs of the market.

For example, in regard to product certification, a company typically approaches SEI asking how to certify that one of the company's products meets a certain standard. SEI staff will then determine whether SEI's laboratory-partners have the ability to conduct testing for that product.

If the product is in a new area, SEI could ask its current lab partners if they might be interested in acquiring equipment to support the new program. Or, SEI staff might look for potential new lab partners. SEI will work with an auditor to ensure that labs can do the tests according to a particular standard.

SEI audits all of its labs on a routine basis. "We confirm that labs maintain their accreditation, understand SEI procedures, work well with manufacturers, and that they're effective," Gleason says. SEI staff themselves look at product testing and quality assurance resports to ensure that product models comply with standards, and randomly select samples for annual testing checks.

How SEI Was Born

The societal need for an organization such as SEI emerged in the late 1970s after the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health created certifications for respiratory protection and gas detector units, but NIOSH could not launch additional needed programs due to budget cuts. As a result, concerns arose regarding substandard products and false claims of compliance and certification.

Agencies and manufacturers stepped in with seed funding to create a certification organization. This included the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the International Safety Equipment Association, and the U.S. National Safety Council along with companies like U.S. Steel, Mobil, and manufacturers. SEI was launched in 1981.

Initial SEI programs included industrial hard hats and safety eyewear. Later, SEI moved into consumer products such as sports helmets, including an equestrian helmet certification program built on an ASTM standard.

Then, the National Fire Protection Association decided to require third-party certification for its safety and protective equipment standards. "NFPA, influenced by the firefighters union, saw problems with substandard products in the market. Concerns grew about injuries and even fatalities associated with the failure of personal protective equipment," said Gleason. SEI was part of the solution, offering new programs for helmets and more.

Future Opportunities Abound

Looking forward, Gleason and Thomas anticipate the strengthening of existing programs as well as the growth of new ones.

"We look forward to SEI realizing opportunities for new certification programs where ASTM committee members - and others throughout the world - have expressed interest for conformity assessment," says Thomas. "Looking at SEI as a subsidiary of ASTM, it gives us a great presence in certification."

Already, SEI is looking toward potential collaborations with US Lacrosse and the U.S. National Institute of Justice, the latter of which will focus on handcuffs and chemical-biological protective clothing.

"There's a strong synergy between ASTM and SEI staff," said Gleason, who also serves as chairman of the board of the American National Accreditation Board and a board member of the American National Standards Institute and former chair of its conformity assessment policy committee. "There are many good things to come."

SEI Snapshot

  • Headquarters: McLean, Virginia
  • Founded 1981
  • Accredited: American National Standards Institute and the Standards Council of Canada
  • Accredited to International Organization for Standardization's ISO/IEC 17065, Conformity Assessment – Requirements for Bodies Certifying Products, Processes, and Services.

Third-party certification programs cover more than 2,500 product models from 150 manufacturers worldwide, including:

  • Helmets (industrial, sports, and police/riot-related)
  • Safety eyewear, face protectors, emergency eyewash equipment
  • Fall-protection equipment
  • Fire service, SCBA, and thermal imaging cameras
  • Hazardous materials and EMS protective wear
  • Protective footwear
  • Athletic equipment: shin guards, gloves, lacrosse balls, equestrian vests, climbing equipment, and baseballs

Programs are based on standards from ASTM (e.g., women's lacrosse helmets), the National Fire Protection Association, National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, the U.S. National Institute of Justice (bomb suits and restraints/hand cuffs), and others.

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