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Robotics Tech Papers

You Can't Grandfather Safety

by Dan Junker, CMSE, President
Automation Rangers, Inc.

You Can't The “Grandfather Clause”

If your factory uses the “Grandfather Clause” for an older process or machine, this article will save you, your people and company a lot of money and maybe a life or limb.

Is it your understanding that your machinery is “Grandfathered”? And you don’t have to add safeguards to make it safe? Electricians are familiar with the “Grandfather clause” as it has been part of the accepted practice in the industry for generations.   

Many Engineers have voiced similar views. But where is it written?

When Grandfathering means warm hugs, corny jokes, silliness and a safe zone where games don’t need rules to be fun, that is one thing. But when it is the safety of an operator, maintenance or engineer then it is quite another. Grandfathering can put a company’s very existence at risk.

The “Grandfather Clause” we have all heard about gives a pass to safety and updates, per the Standards, on older machines, as long as the machine was built properly to the Standards at the time.

How many houses and commercial buildings have you been in that have old wiring? I’ve been in houses that still had “knob and tube” electrical installations from the 1930’s. They aren’t burning down left and right. But as upgrades were installed, the Inspectors required updated safer installations so the knob & tube installations are just about gone. The reasons for updating to a safer installation in keeping with current standards are many. Standards are updated to incorporate the improvements and lessons learned in industry.  Safety and Productivity are at the heart of these updated Standards. Improved methods are often the foundation for greater profits.

The roots for the “Grandfather Clause” may be from a section of NFPA 1, that when taken out of context creates a Grandfather clause. Similar excerpts were in OSHA for a time.  When you read the “unless specified by through” you get the whole picture in context.

NFPA 1 stated the following: Retroactivity of Referenced Standards to Existing Conditions. Unless otherwise specified by through, the current provisions of the referenced standards shall not apply to facilities, equipment, structures, or installations that existed or were approved for construction or installation prior to the effective date of this Code.  (If you stop here you had a “Grandfather Clause”, but as you can see that wasn’t true when you read the specifications of through Where specified by a reference standard for existing occupancies, conditions, or systems, the provisions of the referenced standards shall be retroactive. Facilities, equipment, structures, and installations, installed in accordance with a reference standard, shall be maintained in accordance with the edition of the standard in effect at the time of installation. In those cases where the AHJ determines that the existing situation constitutes an imminent danger, the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) shall be permitted to apply retroactively any portions of the current referenced standards deemed appropriate.

"The Grandfather Clause” doesn’t exist for houses, commercial buildings or process / machines in factories.  In factories, concerned about the reliability of power and the safety of personnel, electrical grids are maintained and upgraded on a regular basis, NFPA 70E is the primary ANSI Standard that addresses that.

The Grandfather Clause for a process and/or machine is a myth and is never mentioned in any current Standard from OSHA, ANSI, NFPA, ISO, IEC, CSA or otherwise.

But the myth persists around most maintenance rooms and even engineering firms.

Finally, twenty years ago, in 1996 ANSI B11.19 eliminated the "Grandfather Clause" in writing, stating that all new machines would be required to update safety to the current standards and all existing machinery by year 2000. The new machines had until 1997, the typical 1-year grace period for all ANSI standards.

Not many maintenance rooms come equipped with a full set of ANSI Standards.  Many of them don’t have any Standards, just an NEC code book.

You should also know that the new UL 508 standard for control panels applies equally to your existing installations, regardless of age or application.

A short circuit current rating (SCCR) must be calculated and displayed on the electrical panels. While this has an obvious effect on design and construction of new panels, any installation that is subject to inspection will now be held to this standard and you should prepare for implementing the requirements. Enforcement may vary from place to place, but don’t depend on a grace period.

The Grandfather Clause has no credence in Europe either...

See Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC.The CE-mark is applied at the time the machine is placed on the market and/or put into service in Europe. This means that CE-marking cannot be “grandfathered”.

The Standards are 95% or more harmonized now and the ISO and IEC Standards do not allow machinery to exist that does not comply with today’s Standards.

The Best Protection for you, your people and your company is a Risk Assessment including installation and validation of safeguards.

  • A Compliance audit is great for Safety Planning and estimating but does little for protecting anyone.  
  • Today’s Standards require a manufacturer to prepare a risk assessment for the process/machine, and that risk assessment must be part of the technical file.

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