Proposed Safety Legislation Causes Controversy
By Lauren Vasquez
When the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) Reform Act popped up in Washington, D.C., last November, it contained several sections regarding consumer safety products – including a portion that attempts to clarify UL325 standards. If passed, it will be the first time Congress has stepped in to mandate safety standards to the garage door industry in more than 15 years.
Some in the industry say this congressional directive is necessary, while others call lobbyists for the bill self-serving and disingenuous. But all agree that the current UL325 standard needs clarification. What they can’t seem to agree on is how to do it.
The CSPC Reform Act is a major overhaul for the CSPC, and happens to include Section 31 Garage Door Opener Standard, which has come under scrutiny by some manufacturers for its language – particularly: “…all automatic garage door openers that directly drive the door in the closing direction that are manufactured more than six months after the date of enactment of this Act shall include an external secondary entrapment protection device that does not require contact with a person or object for the garage door to reverse.”
“[If passed, the bill] essentially takes any product that carries inherent secondary entrapment off the market,” says Neil Giarratana, president and CEO of Marantec Inc. “We looked at that and said it’s totally unacceptable.”
Marantec, a privately owned German company active in 50 countries – including the United States, with its manufacturing plant in Gurney, Ill. – opposes the bill because its wording allows only one specific type of safety technology: non-contact, also referred to as “photo eyes” or “IRs.”
The manufacturer of garage door opener systems backs a force-sensing safety technology system that does not use IRs that was recently introduced by Salt Lake City-based Martin Door in April 2007, and contends that Chamberlain – the major manufacturer that lobbied for the bill – is simply trying to shut out their new product from the U.S. marketplace. Because Chamberlain sells this same type of technology with optional IRs in Europe (where standards do not require an external secondary entrapment system), Giarratana calls Chamberlain’s efforts self-serving and disingenuous and opposes the use of congressional mandate to set forth any residential garage door standard.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain officials maintain their stance, and assure their efforts are, and always have been, safety-focused – not financially motivated.
“Chamberlain was one of the prime companies in the original movement to have an external secondary reversal system required in addition to the force reversal system that’s within the operator,” points out Mark Karasek, executive vice president of engineering and chief technology officer for the Elmhurst, Ill.-based manufacturer of residential garage door openers.
Karasek purports that after discovering in the late 80s that there were more than 70 child deaths resulting from garage door entrapment, Chamberlain pushed the industry to improve safety requirements. After receiving a sluggish response from the industry and after two children in the same state died in quick succession from being pinned under garage doors Chamberlain started working with a liability attorney and a Minnesota congressman. All three began lobbying for a bill that required openers to adhere to more stringent standards. This bill was enacted in 1993, and eventually IRs became the standard external secondary reversal system used in virtually every garage door sold in the United States.
“After IRs became standard, there have been zero deaths when the IRs have been properly installed – though we know of one death where the IRs were purposefully misaligned,” says Karasek. “Prior to 1993, there were less than 10 million garage door openers in the marketplace. Today there are 50 to 60 million on the marketplace. So you had a high death rate with a relatively low number of installed units, and today you have a dramatically increased number of units and virtually zero deaths.”
When Chamberlain learned that Martin Door’s new “Soft Touch” door and operator system had received approval from UL – without any secondary external reversal system such as photo eyes – they were shocked, says Karasek. “We objected strongly and lodged several complaints with CPCS and UL. Essentially, UL reinterpreted 325 in such a way that they basically changed the standard without getting approval from the technical panel.”
Meanwhile, Giarrantana and Dave Martin, chairman of Martin Door, stand by their contact safety technology, noting it has been tested rigorously by UL. “We met every comma and period in that standard the approval took almost a year and it was very strenuous,” argues Giarrantana. “[UL] took a very, very serious approach – at times we almost threw up our hands because they got so detailed about it, but that’s the way listings are.”
In a written response from Martin Door, Dave Martin points out that IRs are not infallible, and explains the safety features of their system. “The photo eye system works great if a person or object is moving through the door opening as the door begins to close. If a person or object is in the path of the closing door, outside the photo eye beam or straddling it, there is no protection against contact from the closing door. Photo eyes are installed several inches back from the door opening, outside the path of a closing door. Martin’s Soft Touch system automatically reverses the door when it meets 15 pounds of resistance in the down cycle and stops the door with 25 pounds of resistance on the up cycle-eliminating the risk of small children being able to ride the garage door.”
Chamberlain is not convinced, and stresses that their major contention is that UL has erroneously accepted it under a “poorly written loophole” to the requirement for an external secondary reversal system approved by the product safety testing and certification organization in the late 1990s – an exception, Karasek reminds, that was approved with the agreement within the industry that only jackshaft operators (Martin’s system uses a trolley-based operator) would ever be allowed under that loophole.
The disagreement over UL’s approval of a trolley-based door that does not use an external secondary reversal system and the industry’s measured response to clarifying 325 to prove UL’s decision was indeed a sound one has led Chamberlain to team up once again with consumer groups. The result: The Garage Door Opener Standard and the controversial language that outlines non-contact technology specifically as the standard for safety when it comes to residential garage doors.
Whether or not it passes, the opposing sides do agree on one thing UL325 needs clarification.
If the proposed safety bill does not pass, Karasek says Chamberlain will persist in getting the UL standard refined by any means necessary – including using legislation if DASMA and UL continue to drag their feet on the issue. “We do not believe the industry, through DASMA, is capable of making a recommendation to UL for clarifying the rules,” explains Karasek. “They’re all so worried about Congress [getting involved in regulating the industry], but no one is talking about safety – except Chamberlain.”
Giarratana assures that safety is also a top priority at Marantec, and challenges legislation that prescriptively calls one technology “the standard.” If it passes, “We will continually oppose it and any naming of technology [in bill language],” Giarratana says. “At a recent DASMA meeting, it was agreed that UL needs to tighten up UL325 – and we support that at Marantec. We also support whatever technology that meets those standards, as long as the benchmarks and highest safety standards that we support for the consumer, homeowners and children are met or exceeded.”
Karasek maintains that Chamberlain simply does not believe force-sensing or contact technology alone is safe enough to keep children from being killed. “We compare it to the automotive industry. When they introduced airbags, it was a great improvement in safety but they did not take away seatbelts to save money. The only reason to take away IRs is to save a few bucks.”