CBC MARKETPLACE: HOME » CSA
Is our confidence in the Canadian Standards
Association well placed?
Broadcast: November 9, 1999 | Producer:
Richard Wright; Researcher: James Dunne
people have a good impression of what the Canadian Standards
Association (CSA) is and does.
Television sets are CSA-certified.
So are VCRs. When you plug them in, they should work. They shouldn't
give you a shock, or blow a fuse. Fridges are certified
by the CSA. So are toasters, toilets, sports equipment,
Canadian Standards Association
Canadian Standards Association boasts that it certifies 100 items in the
average home. You could say CSA is a household word. But what does the
CSA's word really mean?
CSA says it means serving
the needs of Canadian consumers. The CSA claims to provide an assurance that
products will live up to performance and safety requirements
drawn up by association.
Thanks to one product
that didn't live up to consumer performance expectations, one
Edmonton roofer is doing a brisk business. He's replaced untreated pine
shake on 250 homes -- long before homeowners thought they would have
Untreated pine shakes
were granted a CSA Standard in 1993
wood shake roofs are made of cedar which resists rot and is proven to
perform well for more than 20 years.
But untreated pine shakes are relatively
new. Used in the 1980s, they were granted a CSA Standard
only in 1993. They were certified despite evidence they
would last only half as long as cedar.
Fred Holtslag recalls
when he first noticed his roof was rotting:
"It would be back
in early April '98 I noticed some dark patches on my roof top and wanted
to try to determine the cause of it. So I got on my ladder and up on
my roof and started poking around."
Holtslag's roof was installed before the CSA standard was written, he
now heads the Alberta Pine Shake Homeowners Association.
compensation for members' rotten roofs. His own roof cost $12,000
to replace. He says it was a good example of why pine shakes
should not have been certified.
John Ruddick, a forestry professor at the University of British
Columbia, was on the CSA committee that wrote the pine shakes
standard. He resigned from the committee in protest.
was really no sound scientific study done on durability," he
says, "and I'd indicated that without such a study, shakes
would fail in 10 years."
The CSA committee put nothing in their standard about
how long pine shakes should have to last. Ruddick thought
that was wrong. He says the committee ignored his advice.
Ruddick isn't the only one to say CSA standards fall short
of ensuring the kind of performance and safety consumers
The pine shakes story is just the latest in an ongoing
series brought to you by Marketplace over the years:
- Last year it was the saga of plastic plumbing. Cheap,
easy to install, but there was a problem -- despite its
CSA approval, the pipe leaked.
- Before that it was halogen lamps: hot enough to fry
an egg. Hot enough to start a fire. Certified by CSA.
- Radiant heating panels. Installed in the attic under
the insulation, they can break down and burn. Another
fire hazard certified by the CSA.
- CSA-certified Crane toilet tanks. No laughing matter
for thousands of homeowners whose toilets broke and flooded
- Then there was electric heat tape. Supposed to keep
water pipes from freezing, it too can burst into flames.
- And finally clothes dryer fires, a phenomenon
about which one fire investigator contacted the CSA on
multiple occasions, but never received a reply.
So when the CSA ad tells you to "Think safety," maybe
you should think twice.
CSA gets its mandate to draft standards and to test and
certify products from government, but it's not a government
body. CSA is a business, and it's income comes mainly from
industry. Manufacturers pay CSA to certify their products, and they
sit on CSA's standards committees, and that raises the
question of bias.
CSA claims to set up balanced committees. They say they
include consumers on their committees which draft product
standards, so as to achieve balance.
CSA International has
a network of consumer volunteers who contribute to its standards and activities.
Roughly one third of these volunteers work directly on standards development
committees. Others provide input through surveys, forums, and other outreach
For more information,
contact CSA's Member Services at:
We looked at the committees that wrote the standards for
the products we've investigated. The seven committees included
75 representatives of industry and only six consumers.
committee structure is certainly under stress," says
Prof. Ruddick. He believes CSA committees often do good
work, but vested interests, he adds, can have undue influence
and weaken the standard.
"The key element there would be to make sure, from
the CSA's point of view, that the CSA person monitoring
the process really is vigilant to ensure that the process
works the way it's supposed to," Ruddick says.
And have they been sufficiently vigilant?
"Well, I suppose not in the case
of the shingles and shakes, in my opinion, no."
So what happens when
a CSA-certified product fails?
CSA is supposed to be
responsive to consumers, but the people who bought pine shakes found CSA unresponsive
when they sought help getting compensation for their rotting roofs.
would appear they didn't tell us everything they knew at the time, so
we had to find it out for ourselves," says homeowner Holtslag.
CSA claims to respond
to consumer complaints. But several consumers we talked to told a different
story -- no response, no return phone calls.
And Marketplace didn't
get much further.
We asked CSA president
Robert Griffin to talk to us. We asked, and we asked. And got nowhere after
being told Griffin "will not be available" to take our call.
So, we came to Ottawa
to the Standards Council of Canada, a branch of Industry Canada that
oversees the CSA. Peter Clark heads the Council. Marketplace asked him why nobody at the CSA would talk.
they're prepared to answer public concerns," he says, "but
what they're not doing is responding to the media, and that's not
something I think I can control."
But we told Clark that
other Canadians have also been met with silence. Don Atkinson of Vancouver,
for instance -- after he carried out 22 repairs to plastic plumbing pipe in
his ceiling which was leaking -- called the Canadian Standards Association
a dozen times, and he told Marketplace they did not respond. How can that
"I can't defend
CSA not responding," Clark says. "I can, if I get those complaints
in this office, follow up and ensure a response."
Clark was also told about
the CSA committee that set the standard for pine shakes. We asked him why
the CSA put their stamp on them?
is a voluntarily approved thing with consumers ... regulators, a
balanced committee by the rules they have to have this and they
have to demonstrate it," Clark says. "A balanced committee
that includes consumers. Now you tell me that some expert told
them that these things wouldn't last 25 [years] and they certified
them ... Well I'd like to follow that up."
Clark reiterated that
CSA committees should have consumers on them to achieve a balance. We asked
him if maybe Canadians have put too much stock in that CSA stamp.
No, he said, adding that
the issues we raised are "anomalies."
If he's right, then they're
anomalies that need correction.