Regulations (Preambles to Final Rules) - Table of Contents|
| Record Type:||Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories-Fees|
| Title:||Section 2 - II. Summary and Analysis of the Comments|
II. Summary and Analysis of the Comments
We accepted comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) (64 FR 45098, August 18, 1999) for forty-five (45) days after publication. The end of the comment period was October 4, 1999. We received four (4) comments, and we will discuss each of them individually.
The NPRM addressed two issues: Modification of 29 CFR 1910.7 to include a fee schedule, and reduction of the comment period on Federal Register notices proposing or granting recognition or a change in the scope of recognition. The text proposing a fee schedule included a description of the model used to develop the proposed fees (64 FR 45102, 8/18/99), as well as the initial proposed fee schedule (64 FR 45105). We also included in the NPRM preamble a short discussion of fees charged by other organizations performing similar services for laboratories.
Participation in the NRTL Program is voluntary. OSHA assumes that any laboratory that has chosen to complete the application and recognition process, as well as submit to the requirements for regular audits, has benefitted from its participation. Although the fees that OSHA will assess do not relate directly to financial benefits that NRTLs receive from OSHA's NRTL services, laboratories do have a clear financial incentive to seek and maintain NRTL recognition. Laboratories undoubtedly analyze the financial benefits of participation in the NRTL Program when determining whether to apply for recognition initially, as well as whether to take the time and effort to continue recognition in the future.
None of the four comments received addressed the model used to develop the proposed fee schedule, or any of the supporting documentation related to the fees proposed. They focused instead on whether fees should be assessed, and what services are associated with the fees.
Exhibit 8-1; European Commission
As mentioned in the NPRM (64 FR 45099) and again in this notice, the United States and the European Union (EU) have entered into a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA). The MRA includes an Electrical Safety Annex, which permits a European laboratory to apply to the NRTL Program without separately establishing that its country of origin has "reciprocity" for U.S. laboratories doing electrical safety work. While the MRA has now been in effect for more than a year, OSHA has yet to receive and process any complete applications from laboratories in the European Union. In part, this is because there are differing interpretations of the agreed text of the MRA and how it applies.
The MRA anticipates that OSHA may charge fees for its activities in processing EU applications or monitoring EU NRTLs. Although OSHA had no fees at the time the agreement was negotiated, the U.S. has always made clear that authority to assess and retain fees is in place and that OSHA would be proposing fees in the near future.
The EC comment states that the activities for which OSHA will assess fees under the proposal are similar to activities for which fees are already assessed by European Union authorities. Under the conditions of the MRA, they argue, some of the activities performed by EU authorities duplicate activities that are part of OSHA's NRTL recognition process. Based on this argument, the EC contends that OSHA should not assess fees for any of these activities that are performed by an EU authority, to avoid the possibility that these fees would duplicate those already incurred, which would be in violation of the MRA.
OSHA does not intend to charge fees for services the Agency has not provided itself. Any comparable services that a European authority performs in the context of their own accreditation process are not duplicative services since they involve recognition or accreditation by two different organizations. Similarly, the process used by European authorities to designate a laboratory under the MRA for consideration by OSHA does not duplicate any procedures used by OSHA to determine whether recognition should be granted under the NRTL Program. Therefore, we do not believe there is a legitimate problem in terms of duplicative fee assessment, or violation of the MRA, in establishment of a fee schedule for the NRTL Program.
Exhibit 8-2; Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an NRTL. They are opposing the imposition of fees for the NRTL Program. The following four points are the major arguments in their comment:
1. UL opposes the imposition of fees for OSHA's NRTL process.
2. The OSHA NRTL process has not enhanced workplace safety.
3. Funding for the OSHA NRTL process should come from Federal funds, if at all, because the NRTL process does not provide any "special benefits".
4. A complete economic impact analysis will not support a proposal for fees.
In order to understand the context of the UL comments, we need to review the history of the NRTL Program requirements and UL's role in NRTL testing and certification. When OSHA initially promulgated its safety standards requiring third party testing and certification for a number of products used in the workplace, it specified and, in some cases, implied that this testing and certification was to be done by one of two laboratories: UL or Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC). Thus UL and Factory Mutual had the "special benefits" of being the source for all mandatory testing and certification of products to be used in the workplace. This was a significant benefit that lasted for many years. It was challenged in court by other testing laboratories on the basis that it gave an unfair business advantage to these two laboratories when others were equally qualified to perform such testing and certification. The litigation was settled when OSHA agreed to establish a system to recognize other qualified laboratories. The NRTL Program, established in 1988 (53 FR 12102, 4/12/88), is the result of that litigation.
The 1988 NRTL regulation allowed UL and FMRC to continue to operate as NRTLs for five years without applying for OSHA recognition. At the end of the five-year temporary recognition period, they were to be treated like other testing laboratories, i.e., they had to apply to OSHA and be evaluated to keep their NRTL status. However, the temporary recognition did not end automatically at the end of the five-year period. As long as they filed timely applications, their temporary NRTL status continued until OSHA acted on their application. Both companies did file timely applications for permanent recognition. In 1994, while OSHA was evaluating those applications, other NRTLs sued OSHA in Federal district court seeking an immediate end to UL's and FMRC's temporary recognition status. In a 1995 decision1, the court held that OSHA had violated the earlier settlement agreement by continuing to give preferential treatment to UL and FMRC after the end of the five-year temporary recognition period and ordered OSHA to act on their applications as expeditiously as possible so that they would be treated the same as all other NRTLs. Later in 1995, OSHA completed its evaluations and recognized UL and FMRC as NRTLs.
UL argues that the NRTL Program has not increased workplace safety. In fact, the NRTL Program itself is an administrative mechanism to ensure that laboratories performing third party testing and certification have the competency and qualifications to do so. As UL notes in its comments, it is a "strong supporter of the benefits to the safety of the American public at large, as well as those in the workplace, provided by competent third party product safety certifications." OSHA has agreed with UL and others that third party certification is the best way to ensure workplace safety. The safety standards promulgated by OSHA that require third party testing and certification of products used in the workplace have, we believe, enhanced workplace safety. The NRTL Program is the means we use to ensure that enhancement continues by reviewing and monitoring the laboratories in the program as they implement an appropriate program to conduct testing and certification.
UL also argues that such testing and certification would take place regardless of OSHA requirements. Certainly it is true that voluntary testing and certification is undertaken by a number of manufacturers. In addition, there are other types of requirements that may encourage such manufacturers to do the testing and certification to protect themselves from liability, to comply with insurance company requirements, or to follow state or local requirements. However, a mandatory requirement for such testing and certification is most certainly a stronger incentive than most of those that result in voluntary testing and certification.
UL and Factory Mutual are unique among the current NRTLs in that their benefits changed as a result of the 1988 rule and the court's 1995 ruling that they should no longer receive preferential treatment. However, they continue to enjoy the benefits of NRTL status, even though they now share those benefits with other laboratories. Had OSHA not recognized them as NRTLs under the 1988 rule, they would no longer be able to test and certify products for workplace use. Thus, the argument that they do not receive benefits from the NRTL Program is not valid.
UL's continued participation in the NRTL Program is perhaps the most telling argument regarding the special benefits it receives. Since participation is completely voluntary, UL must have accrued benefits from its participation and regular expansion of UL's scope of recognition. Most recently, UL was the first NRTL to obtain recognition for sites in the European Union in order to do NRTL testing in Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom. UL also has sites in Taiwan and Hong Kong. These business decisions are undoubtedly based on the recognition of the special benefits of being able to test products for use in American workplaces, and give them an NRTL certification, in the countries where they are produced before they are shipped to the U.S. The costs to OSHA to deal with expansions into other countries are significant, particularly with regard to travel. These are the types of direct expenses that the fees are designed to address, so that resources are available as laboratories expand their NRTL business opportunities into other countries.
While UL makes no specific comment on the economic analysis included in the NPRM (64 FR 45107), it argues that more analysis is needed. In its arguments, however, UL tacitly acknowledges that the fees are not unreasonable: "The fees may be minimal now, but this may only be the initial assessment with the potential for substantial uncontrolled increases to follow."
As described in the NPRM (64 FR 45101), the fee structure is based essentially on the time that OSHA spends to perform activities related to a laboratory's application for recognition, expansion, renewal, or annual audits. The fees for these activities were calculated based on current experiences, and are related to the salaries of the individuals assigned to the Program, to the time needed to complete the required actions, as well as to the travel costs associated with on-site assessments and audits.
Under the requirements for Federal agencies that assess fees, a "substantial uncontrolled" increase in fees is not permitted. First, as proposed in the NPRM (64 FR 45104), OSHA will publish any proposed changes to the fee structure in the Federal Register for comment. In doing so, the Agency must explain any changes and the necessity for any increase in fees. Secondly, based on our review of the items that contribute to the fees, we believe that none of them are subject to great fluctuation or uncontrolled increases. We must emphasize that since the fees must be used only for the NRTL Program, we will only collect fees that are specifically related to that program.
Salaries of Federal employees, which are one of the two main bases for the fee structure, increase in relation to comparable salary increases in the private sector. These increases are modest, and would be unlikely to have a major impact on the fee structure. Similarly, while travel costs do increase periodically, these increases are also not expected to rise dramatically. If they increase, it will be commensurate with travel expenses in the private sector. Laboratories will benefit from the fact that travel expenses will be assessed based on rates paid by the government for items such as air travel and hotel bills, since these rates are generally lower than those paid by private sector business travelers.
We believe that the current economic analysis is adequate, and that it supports our determinations that the proposed fees are reasonable and that the manner of determining the fee schedule is fair, equitable, and unlikely to result in "substantial uncontrolled increases." The fees that OSHA will impose on laboratories for the NRTL Program are small, particularly when compared to the other costs of testing and certification that are already borne by manufacturers. The small additional cost to the laboratories will likely have little impact on the ultimate cost of the product itself.
UL mentions trade issues as a reason for more economic analysis. In fact, as noted in the NPRM (64 FR 45099), the opportunity for foreign laboratories to participate in the NRTL Program is expected to increase the costs to the Agency, particularly in the area of travel expenses. Assessment of fees for reimbursement of these direct costs will ensure that the costs are borne by those laboratories acquiring the benefits of participation in the NRTL Program rather than the American taxpayer.
Exhibit 8-3; ACIL
ACIL is a trade association of independent laboratories, including 12 of the 16 current NRTLs. It has a committee of NRTL laboratories that meets on a regular basis to discuss issues of common interest.
ACIL states that it supports the assessment of fees as follows:
ACIL supports OSHA's intent to obtain fees for services as necessary to maintain the NRTL Program and to insure greater workplace safety involving electrical products. We believe the method described for establishing fee schedules is fair and equitable. Every country or entity that offers laboratory accreditation charges a fee for services. Establishing this fee is reasonable and should be accepted by laboratories that desire NRTL accreditation and recognition.
However, ACIL then indicates that its support is contingent upon "improved services," and it enumerates what it would consider to be such services. The services ACIL describes are discussed below.
In response, OSHA notes that assessment of fees is based on the services currently provided, and expected to continue to be provided, on the processing of applications and on the maintenance of recognition. The fees are assessed on an individual laboratory basis and are related to specific actions involving that laboratory. These do not include any unrelated overhead or management activities of the program as a whole. The rules for assessment of such fees by a Federal Agency are very narrowly drawn and are not related to any of the items mentioned by ACIL. In other words, the items listed by ACIL are not "services" in the sense of the requirements for assessment of fees by a Federal agency, and the fees themselves are in no way related to those items. ACIL's list of items generally relates to the overall management of the Program and internal OSHA decisions regarding priorities and activities. However, we believe it is useful to list those items and specifically respond to them.
1. NRTL Program Training for Compliance Officers
OSHA has prepared a training program for compliance officers during the past year, and copies of the presentation have been made available to the NRTLs electronically. Furthermore, the training program has been made available to the public through OSHA's web site for the NRTL Program. The training presentation was a joint effort between the NRTL Program staff and OSHA's professional curriculum development staff in its Office of Training and Education. We consulted about the best and most useful format, as well as manner of presentation, given the competing training needs of OSHA's compliance staff. Ultimately, it was decided that the most useful way to get information about the Program out to our staff would be through the development and distribution of a training presentation that can be used at the Area and Regional Office level in staff meetings or as a module in other training courses. The program has been broadly distributed and well-received. Development of such a program was funded by the Agency, and would have been even if the fee schedule was in place, since it is not the type of activity that is specific to a laboratory and thus could be subject to fees. The training is an internal OSHA activity and is not a "service" to the laboratories.
2. OSHA Employing Outside Auditors To Assist and Support OSHA Staff, Whether They Be OSHA Trained Contract Auditors or Permanent OSHA Auditors
OSHA does not have a shortage of trained auditors to perform on- site visits under the NRTL Program, nor do we expect to be unable to meet the requirements of the Program any time in the foreseeable future. This is actually financially advantageous to the laboratories since we would be unlikely to be able to contract for the services performed for any less money than we currently spend using our own staff. If we were to have a shortage of staff, we would consider using this approach. At this point, it is not necessary. This again is not a "service" to the laboratories. It is related to the management of the program, and if we did have to use such an approach, we would have to adjust the fee schedule accordingly.
3. Increased Enforcement Efforts by Compliance Officers, OSHA Inspectors, and Program Auditors
In no way are OSHA enforcement activities a "service" to the NRTLs. OSHA determines its enforcement activities based on consideration of a number of factors, including targeting, complaints, and accidents. The safety standards that require NRTL testing and certification are among many other requirements that are reviewed by compliance staff as they conduct inspections. The fees to be collected for the NRTL Program are not and cannot be related to enforcement.
4. Development of a Program To Support the Significance of the NRTL Program
It is not clear what this means specifically, but we believe it is related to the efforts of some NRTLs to promote the use of the NRTL Program for purposes beyond workplace safety and health. For example, some NRTLs have encouraged State and local authorities to rely on NRTL product testing and certification in their public safety program activities outside the workplace. This is outside the scope of OSHA's authority. While it is certainly the prerogative of these authorities to use testing laboratories, including NRTLs, for that purpose, OSHA does not endorse, promote, or engage in such activity since our mandate is limited to workplace safety and health. Again, this is unrelated to the services addressed by the fee schedule.
5. Promoting Employer Awareness of the NRTL Program
Promotion of employer awareness of any OSHA requirements is related to improving workplace safety and health. It is not a "service" to the NRTLs, and would not be an item subject to the fee schedule.
It appears from these suggestions that there is a basic misunderstanding about the fact that fees are specific to a laboratory, and to the activities related to recognition that are performed for that laboratory. There is a further issue underlying these items that should be addressed. Based on discussions OSHA has had with ACIL and the NRTLs they represent, we know that ACIL's suggestions are intended to promote the NRTL Program for marketing purposes. In other words, increased training, enforcement, and program promotion all increase the visibility of the NRTLs as business concerns. When OSHA promotes the NRTL Program, it does so to increase workplace safety and health. We continue to promote the Program in this way through various means funded directly by OSHA. Besides the training presentation already described, we have developed a web page on the NRTL Program that includes extensive information, as well as listing the NRTLs, showing their marks, and addressing their scope of recognition. We believe this is the most effective way to reach our own compliance staff, as well as the public, with substantive information about the NRTL Program and the recognized laboratories. This is done to enhance workplace safety and health, and is not a "service" to the NRTLs.
We have also completed a directive that details the policies and procedures of the NRTL Program for the first time in its history. This directive ensures that OSHA staff, as well as the NRTLs and the public, has access to information about the Program and its operation.
OSHA will continue to undertake such activities as resources permit and as found appropriate by the Agency. However, the fees to be collected will not be used for these purposes. We will be happy to continue to work with ACIL or any NRTL or other interested party, to define appropriate activities to increase workplace safety and health through enhancement of the NRTL Program and the testing and certification requirements.
ACIL also indicated that it did not believe that fees should be retroactively assessed. OSHA has no plans to assess fees on a retroactive basis for services already provided without cost to the laboratory. ACIL also suggested that OSHA bill for its services "at the time services are rendered," rather than at the beginning of the year, as proposed in the notice (64 FR 45105).
We find merit in ACIL's suggestion. This approach would reduce the collection activity of the Agency, since only one bill would have to be sent to the NRTL for an audit, rather than the two contemplated under the NPRM. There would be minimal financial burden to the Agency by delaying collection. We proposed "up-front" billing in the NPRM to ensure the Agency would receive payment regardless of the outcome of the audit process. Since an NRTL's recognition can be revoked for non- payment, we believe this is enough incentive to pay after the audit is performed. For similar reasons, we plan to bill the NRTLs for any assessment that we perform for a renewal or expansion after we have performed it. However, we will still require applicants seeking initial recognition to submit the assessment fee with their application to ensure the Agency is reimbursed for its costs should an applicant decide to withdraw its application after OSHA performs its assessment.
On the issue of reducing the comment period, ACIL indicated this would provide some benefit to the laboratories. Because the longest time period in the process precedes this formal comment period, ACIL suggests that OSHA should include a set time period for processing.
Based on OSHA's experience, this is not possible. The biggest delays in the process are generally associated with incomplete information provided in an application, or the time a laboratory spends to correct deficiencies found in on-site assessments. In addition, new applicants frequently have testing experience, but they may not have experience in the certification process. Considerable work may be required to ensure they have internal procedures to meet the requirements of OSHA's NRTL Program.
We have prepared application guidelines to help address the first issue, and have made them available on our web site. If an applicant provides all of the information and supporting documentation indicated in the guidelines, we should not need to go back to the laboratory on one or more occasions to gather additional information. The application guidelines also follow what is normally reviewed in an on-site assessment. If laboratories provide the information specified and are ready to show assessors what they do in these areas, they may have to correct fewer deficiencies before we grant recognition. These guidelines are just beginning to be used, and we will be monitoring their use to determine how well they are working.
We process applications in the order they arrive, and the time to wait for processing depends on the number that have already been submitted by other laboratories. There is no way to predict when applications will be submitted, and there is no advance indication about the numbers of laboratories that may choose to apply at any given time. We continue to encourage laboratories to cover as many test standards as possible in any one application to help reduce the overall number of applications to be processed.
ACIL also attached a paper regarding some issues on surveillance audits, which were not addressed by the NRPM. The paper contains certain suggestions that ACIL wants the Agency to consider, and OSHA will consider them for future action.
Exhibit 8-4; National Electrical Manufacturers Association
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) represents a number of manufacturers of products that are subject to requirements for third party testing and certification under OSHA's safety standards. NEMA objects to the assessment of fees, and questions whether OSHA has the authority to require fees. In particular, NEMA states that because the testing activities are mandatory, they "do not support the conclusion that the fee is incident to a voluntary act."
While testing and certification of equipment is mandatory, participation in the NRTL Program by a laboratory is completely voluntary. As noted in the NPRM (64 FR 45100), OSHA has the authority to collect fees under the OMB Circular, and Congress has given OSHA specific authority to collect and retain those fees for the specific use of the NRTL Program.
NEMA also notes that the fees will be passed on to manufacturers such as those they represent. While this is true, the fees themselves are quite small compared to the overall costs of testing and certification, and will be spread among the customers for whom the laboratories are testing and certifying products for. In addition, the manufacturers will most likely distribute these costs to their customers through the pricing of their products. The costs are so small that the price increase for any particular product is also unlikely to be significant.
NEMA further argues that if fees are assessed, foreign laboratories should not be given any special treatment or privilege. OSHA will be applying any fee schedule in the same manner to all NRTL Program participants, both foreign and domestic.
OSHA has decided to establish a fee schedule for the NRTL Program in this final rule. The comments received did not address the specific fees proposed or the method of developing the proposed fee schedule. While two of the commenters objected to the assessment of fees (Exs. 8- 2 and 8-4), their arguments were not compelling. ACIL, the trade association that includes 12 of the 16 organizations from whom fees would be collected, stated that the fees are fair and equitable and simply reflect what is common practice for other organizations doing similar work. OSHA has the authority to assess fees to laboratories for the direct expenses the Agency incurs as a result of providing services to them. The laboratories receive "special benefits" as a result of the requirements established by OSHA for testing and certification of products to be used in the workplace. In addition, Congress has given OSHA the authority to collect and retain these fees for the administration of the NRTL Program.
On the issue of reducing the comment period for Federal Register notices concerning recognition, only ACIL commented, and it agreed that this would lead to a useful reduction in the total time for processing applications. The reduction of the time for public comment is also being addressed in this final rule.
FOOTNOTE (1) MET Laboratories v. Reich, 875 F. Supp. 304 (D. Md., 1995) (Back to Text)
[65 FR 46799, July 31, 2000]
|Regulations (Preambles to Final Rules) - Table of Contents|