Test certificates: what do they really mean?

Commercial pressures are a temptation to purchase look-a-likes or clones that just don’t perform as you would expect. Product test certification was introduced to give buyers confidence that the products they are buying had passed performance tests and meet the criteria stipulated. Without a valid test certificate, buyers are putting themselves at risk of using a product that might not be safe. But how often do you inspect a test certificate, and do you understand what it means? Adrian JG Marsh reports.

“Knowing that what you are buying is fit for purpose is an absolute requirement of the supply chain and no more so than when scaffolding contractors are sourcing tube, fittings and system,” said Matt Shore from SCP Forgeco.

But temptation may soon be a thing of the past because the Hackitt Report into the Grenfell Tower disaster could fundamentally change the construction industry’s attitude towards design and construction, not just from a fire safety perspective but right across the industry – and including access and scaffolding.

Mr Shore explained: “It’s essential that clear measures are taken to ensure that in future any product used in the construction process, including non-mechanical construction equipment, is compliant with appropriate standards and backed by valid test certificates.”

Manufacturers spend many thousands of pounds on auditing and testing to demonstrate that what they are manufacturing meets the standards required. A substandard component, or a poorly fitted one, can lead to catastrophic results.

Demonstrating that suppliers’ products have been manufactured to the correct standard demands rigid quality control procedures and constant checking and verification.

“Every month, we take delivery of thousands of fittings from our production plants in the UK and overseas. It is essential we can prove to our customers that what they are buying meets the appropriate standard,” Mr Shore continued.

“Our quality control procedures mean we can trace every batch from when it was manufactured to who it was sold to. We also inspect and test our products on a random basis at independent testing facilities. This gives us the confidence to know that all our products will perform.”

Being able to rely on independent test data gives contractors confidence that a product can be trusted. In today’s litigious world, such a high level of traceability and testing gives wholesalers and contractors an assurance in the quality of the tube, fittings and accessories being used.

Marc van der Voort, managing director at Industrial Textiles & Plastics (ITP), is aware of two major suppliers of flame-retardant debris netting and flame-retardant sheeting in the UK who do not provide test reports and whose product data sheets only specify fire-retardant additives. He said: “Without testing to recognised standards, the efficacy and performance of debris netting and sheeting cannot be verified. We’ve also seen a test report that shows that the material of one product had actually failed a test…!”

To help contractors navigate test certificates and product markings, ITP has produced a technical briefing that points out to scaffolders what to look for on flame-retardant certification for scaffold sheeting. Building projects using products that have not been tested and certified by internationally recognised third-party certification boards increase risk and compromise safety of both the site and workers.

Paul Beck at insurance brokers Amicus said: “Post-Grenfell, insurance companies have focused on building facades and will now only cover installations that use non-flammable products. As the use of netting and sheeting has grown, the scaffolding sector needs to look carefully at the products it uses to wrap a scaffold structure, which could well fall under the definition of ‘facade’. If you use a non-flame-retardant sheeting product, you could invalidate your insurance.” 

The same goes for the scaffolding structure, warns Mr Beck, commenting: “You could also be at risk if you use accessories or fittings that you have not verified as fit for purpose. So, check your test certificates carefully and, if in doubt, run it past your insurer for their approval.”    

“Knowing that what you are buying is fit for purpose is an absolute requirement of the supply chain and no more so than when scaffolding contractors are sourcing tube, fittings and system,” said Matt Shore from SCP Forgeco.

But temptation may soon be a thing of the past because the Hackitt Report into the Grenfell Tower disaster could fundamentally change the construction industry’s attitude towards design and construction, not just from a fire safety perspective but right across the industry – and including access and scaffolding.

Mr Shore explained: “It’s essential that clear measures are taken to ensure that in future any product used in the construction process, including non-mechanical construction equipment, is compliant with appropriate standards and backed by valid test certificates.”

Manufacturers spend many thousands of pounds on auditing and testing to demonstrate that what they are manufacturing meets the standards required. A substandard component, or a poorly fitted one, can lead to catastrophic results.

Demonstrating that suppliers’ products have been manufactured to the correct standard demands rigid quality control procedures and constant checking and verification.

“Every month, we take delivery of thousands of fittings from our production plants in the UK and overseas. It is essential we can prove to our customers that what they are buying meets the appropriate standard,” Mr Shore continued.

“Our quality control procedures mean we can trace every batch from when it was manufactured to who it was sold to. We also inspect and test our products on a random basis at independent testing facilities. This gives us the confidence to know that all our products will perform.”

Being able to rely on independent test data gives contractors confidence that a product can be trusted. In today’s litigious world, such a high level of traceability and testing gives wholesalers and contractors an assurance in the quality of the tube, fittings and accessories being used.

Marc van der Voort, managing director at Industrial Textiles & Plastics (ITP), is aware of two major suppliers of flame-retardant debris netting and flame-retardant sheeting in the UK who do not provide test reports and whose product data sheets only specify fire-retardant additives. He said: “Without testing to recognised standards, the efficacy and performance of debris netting and sheeting cannot be verified. We’ve also seen a test report that shows that the material of one product had actually failed a test…!”

To help contractors navigate test certificates and product markings, ITP has produced a technical briefing that points out to scaffolders what to look for on flame-retardant certification for scaffold sheeting. Building projects using products that have not been tested and certified by internationally recognised third-party certification boards increase risk and compromise safety of both the site and workers.

Paul Beck at insurance brokers Amicus said: “Post-Grenfell, insurance companies have focused on building facades and will now only cover installations that use non-flammable products. As the use of netting and sheeting has grown, the scaffolding sector needs to look carefully at the products it uses to wrap a scaffold structure, which could well fall under the definition of ‘facade’. If you use a non-flame-retardant sheeting product, you could invalidate your insurance.” 

The same goes for the scaffolding structure, warns Mr Beck, commenting: “You could also be at risk if you use accessories or fittings that you have not verified as fit for purpose. So, check your test certificates carefully and, if in doubt, run it past your insurer for their approval.”