By J. Lynn Fraser
As with any consumer product, it's reassuring to know that the home you are living in was built with national standards in mind and that the appliances within it are safe for use. But just how can you be sure of these things? Well, look for the CSA approval.
Since 1919 the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), an independent not-for-profit organization, has created and maintained over 2,600 standards for the safety, design, or performance of a variety of goods and services. It remains the largest organization of its kind in Canada, and its work benefits industry, business, and consumers alike.
According to Don Johnston, director of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, the CSA is a quiet industry presence. "[CSA] is an important part of the building industry," he says, "But a largely invisible one."
Johnston equates the CSA's work to that of an iceberg. It is unseen, but forms a large part of the building industry. CSA-approved products include industrial, electrical, consumer, and commercial goods. Your refrigerator and freezer, for example, are evaluated against CSA standards for their potential to cause injury or fire, and your home's bricks and asphalt roofing sheets are evaluated for their strength and durability.
Scientists, academics, environmentalists, and technicians who represent government, industry, labour, and consumers contribute to the certification process through the 1,200 CSA committees. The testing of these standards is done via CSA International, of which the CSA is a member. CSA International conducts 50,000 factory visits a year worldwide to ensure that international products used in Canada meet Canadian and international standards.
According to Marta Caris, director of the Consumer Product Safety Bureau at Health Canada, the bureau participates in several CSA International initiatives that pertain to product safety. "CSA International's product certification program helps to ensure that consumer products that conform to recognized standards are distributed in Canada," says Caris. Around the world, over 1 billion products have been CSA certified?and that number continues to grow.
Various bodies in the United States and Canada recognize the CSA's standards which are noted in legislation found at federal, provincial, state, and municipal levels across North America. The CSA itself is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada.
You may be asking yourself, what is a standard and what does it mean? It stipulates the requirements for the safety and/or performance or utility of products, processes, and services. A standard is created through several stages. A product is monitored for five years after it has been approved and will continue to be monitored over time to keep it up-todate. The CSA also publishes an annual report and publishes product recalls online; any changes or findings can be found on the CSA website or through one of its publications.
CSA products: "work to protect [people] in their day-to-day living," says Anthony Toderian, media relations officer with the CSA Group. He warns consumers that if they buy products that are well below market prices, are flimsy in construction, have misspellings on the label, or come from less-than-reputable stores, they might be buying counterfeit products. Toderian cautions that electric shocks or fire can result from products such as power bars or electrical cords. You may also be voiding your fire insurance and be in violation of the law if you use them. But products don't have to be counterfeit to be unfit. That fancy designer sink you just purchased might look great, but that doesn't mean you can rely on it. Information on counterfeit products is available at the group website.
If a product has CSA approval, you can be confident that the product is dependable. And, should a problem arise, the CSA will be notified and alert the public of any dangers or recalls. One example is when the CSA put out a public recall for a short-circuiting baseboard heater that caused fire damage. Over 450,000 of these heaters had to be recalled. In another case, a gas-fired pool heater was recalled because it failed to ignite properly, allowing gas to build up with the risk of a fire or explosion occurring.
Although no consumer is ever prepared for a product warning or recall, CSA certification means that standards are set in place so that dangerous results can remain at a minimum.
Visit www.csa.ca or at www.csa-international.org for examples of CSA markings, as well as a database of certified products.