Handling the Handle Issue: An Interview with Joe Hetzel

© 2001 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2001
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 36-37

Handling the Handle Issue
An Interview with Joe Hetzel

On July 1, 2001, the new DASMA 116 “pinch standard” became effective. Its core message: if a residential garage door is not pinch-resistant, it must have handles or suitable gripping points. Even though the standard is voluntary, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has said it will monitor the industry’s compliance with DASMA 116.

Joe Hetzel, DASMA’s technical director, has been close to the hub of the issue since its inception. He participated in the drafting of the standard, and he is often a resource person for dealers and manufacturers who ask questions about it.

In an effort to put our finger on the pulse of this issue, we asked Joe several questions. His responses are his own and do not represent the official position of DASMA, the CPSC, or any group.

You’ve been in touch with a variety of manufacturers on this issue. Can you describe some of the different approaches manufacturers are taking?

Joe: I have found that manufacturers are stepping up their efforts to provide new doors that are pinch-resistant, and some are providing handles that aesthetically blend with their door designs. I am aware of manufacturers that are taking innovative approaches to handle design. A number of manufacturers have told me they plan to inform and educate their distribution network on how they will comply with the standard.

From your perspective, how have dealers been responding to the handles?

Joe: One dealer told me that he thinks homeowners do not want handles on their doors. Another dealer expressed concern over his legal risk when he installs a door that does not comply with the standard.
Another asked about a “waiver form” for the homeowner to sign, and wondered if a signed form would protect him from liability. A couple of dealers told me they were considering creating their own “waiver form.”
It seems that dealers are going to deal with this issue according to their own business related conviction. I encourage them to work closely with their door suppliers.

In your mind, what is the most productive way for dealers to respond to the handle requirement?

Joe: The best response by dealers and manufacturers would be to do their best to comply with DASMA 116. Remember, the standard is the result of several meetings with the CPSC, and they have reviewed the document on several occasions. From my viewpoint, the CPSC’s concern about finger pinch is not going to go away.
I suggest that dealers turn the installation of handles into a positive. Handles not only promote safety, but homeowners might forget that all doors occasionally must be manually operated. Even automated doors need to be disengaged occasionally, such as during power outages, operator component failure, routine door maintenance, or checking any problems with the mechanical operation of the door itself. In those situations, handles are extremely helpful. So, handles should be viewed not only as a convenience, but also as a feature that adds value to a door.

If a homeowner refuses to allow the dealer to install handles on a non-pinch resistant door, what can a dealer do?

Joe: If you’ve stressed the importance of complying with the industry standard and you’ve explained how pinching, dislocating, crushing, and severing of fingers may occur, and the homeowner still refuses, then I think you must kindly and diplomatically explain the liability situation.
You might say something like, “It’s my job to install your door in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions so that it operates safely for you and your family. If you are willing to release me from liability for any injuries that may occur as a result of your decision, then I will do as you wish.”
Before you proceed, the homeowner should then sign a statement or a waiver form intended to release you, your installer, and your company from liability. But be aware that a signed statement may apply only to injuries sustained by the person signing the form. Injuries could be sustained to others in and out of that household, as well as future owners of the home.
Besides obtaining a signed form, you should document that they refused the handles. Even after doing all this, I’d still be sure to give them all handle hardware and the installation instructions.

Is it appropriate for DASMA to provide such a waiver form?

Joe: I don’t think so. DASMA wants to do all it can to help dealers, but I think it would be a mistake for DASMA to distribute waiver forms. It would defeat the purpose of the past four years of meaningful dialogue and cooperation with the CPSC. I think dealers can appreciate the situation.

Let’s say a dealer chose to ignore the handles when installing non-pinch resistant doors. What are the problems with that approach?

Joe: On one hand, no current federal laws govern this issue. Since compliance to this standard is voluntary, there would be no violation of laws. On the other hand, if you disregard the manufacturer’s instructions, you make yourself a possible target for legal action if an injury occurs.

It’s been said that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will be monitoring the industry’s compliance with DASMA 116. Is that happening?

Joe: Yes, it is. The CPSC has developed a standardized “audit form” to investigate finger-related accidents involving section interfaces. When they investigate, I think they’ll want to know if the door was installed on or after July 1, 2001, and if the door complies with the standard. They will likely compile the statistics as an indicator of industry compliance over a defined period of time.
Remember, if the CPSC determines that voluntary compliance is not working, they may decide to take further action, and may initiate “rulemaking” procedures eventually resulting in a federal law. Although DASMA would provide input into the process, DASMA would have no control over the final wording of such a federal law.

I’ve heard some people say that finger pinch is not a significant issue and that the pinch-resistant doors are no safer than other doors. How would you respond to that?

Joe: The CPSC believes it is a significant issue, and their opinion is important since they have the power to write federal laws. I think that manufacturers would be wise to comply with the standard, and an installing dealer should comply with manufacturers’ installation instructions.

If you could send a message to all manufacturers about this issue, what would it be?

Joe: Comply with the standard. Make your position on the issue very clear to your distribution network. Reflect this position in your installation instructions.

If you could send a message to all dealers about this issue, what would it be?

Joe: Turn this issue into a positive! Educate homeowners about the benefits of compliance with the industry standard. Show them that the industry is concerned for their safety.