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We recently talked with Bill Ching, President of American Uniform Company, about his role in testing AmeriPride garments. Expanding on those responsibilities, Bill explains the importance of garment certification and the procedures that go along with performance and quality.
Describe your involvement in garment certification.
I’ve been managing garment certification for the last six years. It’s an important area because the demand from the market to have certain products certified is growing. This is not a government requirement, but rather a recommendation. You don’t necessarily need these certifications to rent or sell garments, but your end products will be better if you follow the guidelines that they set.
What organizations do you work with to obtain certifications?
For our specialty safety garments and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we work with various organizations, including:
CSA Group – This independent association is dedicated to advancing safety, sustainability and social responsibility. We work with CSA to meet standards on our hi-visibility and flame-resistant (FR) products. Our label shows that we are CSA certified. For example, there are requirements around how much reflective taping you need on a garment in order to qualify as a certain safety class and level depending on your job.
UL – For PPE, UL tests and certifies that our garments meet NFPA 2112 guidelines, which is a requirement for all FR garments. They offer inspection, education and verification.
My job is to make sure that we not only receive the initial certification, but that we also remain compliant with the ongoing recertification. Some recertifications are every six months and some are annual.
How do groups like CSA and UL do their testing?
They do periodic visits at our China factory. They randomly pick products, and they have a checklist to make sure all the products we are making meet the list of requirements. We must use approved materials to produce the garment, that includes everything from fabrics, threads, buttons, zippers, protective tapes – everything that makes up that garment. They ensure that nobody is using the wrong materials, and they take the sample products back to their facilities for testing. They even look at our labels to make sure there are no misrepresentations.
Do any of the recommendations include environmental responsibilities?
UL has a form with an environmental checklist, and we always comply. A sewing factory doesn’t really create much pollution. At most it would be the steam coming out from the boiler. We don’t wash anything or use any chemicals at our sewing factory.
Aside from those organizational inputs, what do the ongoing best practices look like?
I have the same checklist that they use during inspections that I go over with our staff all the time. At the factory, we have employees who specifically walk the production line to check for these requirements. We have to make sure that we’re using all approved materials. It goes all the way down to the employees who are sewing the garments. We make sure they don’t pick up something that is not approved. For example, with flame-resistant thread, we clearly label all the appropriate threads with “FR”. It is ongoing quality control to make sure that everyone is aware of the importance.
I also make sure the factory is operating under ISO 9001 certification. By following those recommended processes and procedures, it helps me do my job. We are consistently renewing our ISO certification.
What happens if a non-compliant issue is found?
That particular group gives us a warning, and we immediately take action. The world is not perfect and there are so many variables going on, but to this date, we haven’t had any non-compliance issues. Variation reports are sent to the factory on a regular basis showing inspection results. We know how serious it is if we don’t comply so it helps to have the awareness from the reports.
Quality control is an ongoing thing. You can’t slow down one day and then speed it up again; it has to be a very consistent, continual process.
These specific standards are not government required, so why incorporate the extra layer of recommendations?
It helps the sales and marketing teams to promote our products to customers – it’s a differentiation from the competition. It’s a more formal process to work with these organizations, and it gives customers peace of mind that we’re doing the right thing. They know we’ve taken the necessary steps to meet standards. When you go to a company’s safety committee and promote the product, they will be more comfortable knowing your product is approved and certified. They want to know that you have a certain standard and that you aren’t just throwing a product together haphazardly. It definitely helps with our credibility.
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