Hot Topic: Complying with Voluntary Standards

© 2002 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2002
Author: Rick Sedivy and Joe Hetzel
Page 44

Hot Topic: Complying with Voluntary Standards

by Rick Sedivy, DoorKing
and Joe Hetzel, DASMA Technical Director

Dealers in the door, gate, and access systems industry have been asking questions about voluntary standards. Their questions affect critical business decisions and significant product liability risks.

The top two questions are:

  1. As a dealer, why should I sell a product that conforms to a "voluntary" industry standard?
  2. What are my liability consequences if I do not follow the manufacturer's written instructions?

Why Sell a Conforming Product?

A voluntary standard represents the industry consensus of "best practice." Such a standard is a consensus of many qualified experts concerning minimum requirements. When you comply with industry standards, you help to improve product safety, uniformity, and durability. This can result in reducing your exposure to liability.

In addition to lowering your risk, selling conforming products can increase marketing opportunities. You can promote conforming products to your customers that are currently using non-conforming products and offer valuable service contracts.

If an accident happens, your compliance to industry standards is one of the first issues that will be considered in determining fault or negligence.

Why Follow the Instructions?

UL 325 is a "voluntary" standard for vehicular gate operators. Manufacturers decide whether to adhere to the standard when they make those products.

However, your compliance with a manufacturer's written installation instructions is not voluntary. If a person is injured by a product you installed, you can be sure that following manufacturer's instructions will be relevant when determining negligence. This includes, for example, the installation of entrapment protection devices on vehicular gates.

Customers may not always want you to install the product according to the manufacturer's instructions. When a customer asks about this, educate them. Explain why the industry adopted the standard and why it's important to follow the instructions.

If they still resist, document the customer's unwillingness to accept any aspect of the installation instructions or an industry standard. Provide your customer with an itemized list, including costs, of what is required to bring the system into compliance. This list should include an "accept / decline" checklist with a space for the customer to initial and date each item.

A Word About Negligence

"Negligence" means failure to use ordinary care or failing to do what a reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances. Product liability attorneys know that a voluntary industry standard is directly relevant to the issue of negligence. It doesn't matter whether that voluntary standard becomes law. Any manufacturer that cares about standards conformance and safety also cares if its dealers are negligent.

The entire industry, both manufacturer and dealer, shares in a collective reputation, whether good or bad. DASMA has worked hard to promote the safety, and resultant quality, of its members' products.

It makes good business sense to comply with industry standards and installation instructions. It distinguishes your company as a professional, reputable, safety-conscious, and quality-conscious business.