You’ve probably never thought about why it is you can safely roll over in your chair to answer your phone without the wheels coming off. Or even tip back and put your feet on the desk. Why doesn’t the chair collapse into a million pieces? (And now you are properly putting your feet back on the floor, aren’t you). Lucky for all of us, there are rigorously-tested standards in place for office furniture, and you can ensure you are getting them when you see the ANSI/BIFMA certification.
So just what does that mean? The short answer is it is a guarantee of quality and safety standards for furniture. There are two important organizations that have carefully designed the standards and the processes for approval. They are each nonprofit but have such great reputations for their work that manufacturers know following their standards is good for business. Their acronyms are ANSI and BIFMA, and below we’ll go into more details about them and the standards.
Who Are the ANSI and BIFMA?
Before we get into the details on what the standards really mean, let’s go over the organizations that are doing the evaluating. Both organizations are nonprofits focused on creating the very best standards for office furniture safety and quality. While they are private organizations, they work with different government agencies regularly. And they don’t have enforcement mechanisms, but because their approval is the highest standard for products, manufacturers have chosen to follow their guidelines. The standards provide manufacturers with a basis for evaluating safety, durability, and structural adequacy of specific furniture.
American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
It was originally called the American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC) when it was created in 1918. At the time, in the United States, there was a brand new emphasis on worker safety. So the AESC began working to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace. In 1921, they adopted the very first American Standard Safety Code, to protect the eyes and heads of industrial workers.
The organization continued to evolve over the years, and finally, in 1968 it became the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). They increased coordination of national voluntary safety and quality standards, which were called the American National Standards. And in 1970, these standards were formalized with a public review process, which gave the ANSI Board of Standards Review (BSR) the job of approving those standards.
ANSI gained more recognition starting in 2007 when several recalls raised people’s awareness of consumer product safety. ANSI became a leader in having uniform standards and safety. And they aren’t only working on office furniture. Today, ANSI encompasses nearly every industry, representing the interests of more than 270,000 companies. Their mission sums up what the organization is all about today: “To enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. business and the U.S. quality of life by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems, and safeguarding their integrity.”
Even beyond that, ANSI is the official U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, via the U.S. National Committee, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). ANSI is also a member of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF).
Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA)
The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) was founded in 1973. They are an ANSI-accredited standards developer serving North American furniture manufacturers. This means they develop voluntary standards for performance and safety using the ANSI consensus process. After ANSI approves the standards, they are made public to be used by all applicable manufacturers and suppliers. Those companies use the standards and guidelines to make sure their products are up to the BIFMA-level of quality.
And BIFMA doesn’t only create industry and product standards. They also:
Support healthy, safe, and sustainable environments;
Publish key industry statistics;
Advocate for legislation and government regulation with a direct impact on the health of the industry;
Provide a forum for members to collaborate on related industry issues.
And the standards themselves are the product of the BIFMA Engineering Committee, which organizes their development—shepherding them from their formation in working groups, through drafting and revisions, to publication and review. Of course, it is very important for the consumer that these standards are created, but having them come from the BIFMA ensures they are uniform, making it easier to comply.
What This Means for You
Between the two organizations, you can be sure that furniture with their sign-off has been given rigorous testing and is safe. The two organizations have developed common standards for products meant to be used in a commercial work environment. There are special BIFMA testing facilities that test office products for safety, structural performance, and durability. And for all of you chair-tippers, the tests include anticipation of product misuse.
In all, there are about 50 total tests for office furniture, and each product must pass all of them in its category in order to receive the ANSI/BIFMA sign-off. BIFMA is constantly reviewing and updating its testing procedures, and when they release an update, manufacturers should re-test their furniture.
Passing all the tests in an ANSI/BIFMA standard takes a lot of work. But companies comply because they know this assures the consumer their products are the highest quality. If you are wondering how to recognize these products, usually they are on the website or other advertising materials. There should be a statement saying the furniture conforms to all relevant BIFMA standards.
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