SFI: What does it mean and what does it actually do?
We see this label and hear it referenced in nearly every rulebook, but what does it actually mean and what does SFI actually do? Originally SFI was affiliated with SEMA and got its initials from the affiliation. Today SFI is a thriving testing facility with a primary focus of keeping drivers safe. SFI has established baseline testing standards for many items we use in racing including suits, gloves, shoes, head and neck restraints, seatbelts and seats just to name a few. Tests are conducted in a laboratory environment to control as many variables as possible. Testing for companies is reasonably priced and the testing is quite thorough. The testing facility is based out of California. The team there is very friendly and they are delighted to help and answer any questions you may have.
What does it mean to have an SFI label on a product? For this example, we will use fire suits. Fire suits can be rated in multiple levels and variations. Manufacturers that have passed the SFI test for a particular level are allowed to buy SFI patches. One patch per article will be attached to the suit in a visible area. Typically the arm or collar area. This is where things get confusing. Just because the suit has a label doesn’t mean the company that’s brand is on the suit actually made it or that they actually participate in the program. The program includes many elements beyond the initial testing. The most common is purchasing a garment from the market place and randomly testing a complete suit from a random dealer or distributor. This allows for anonymous and transparent post product manufacturing testing. Basically, SFI under an anonymous name buys a suit from a dealer and they test it. This confirms they are making them the same way they made the tested items. This also holds the manufacturer accountable in case there is a failure or problem that needs to be addressed.
In the last several years, we have seen may suit brands pop up overnight. Most recently Speedsy was caught using counterfeit SFI labels. This doesn’t mean the suits were unsafe, it just means they were untested. There are many night time keyboard warriors that are buying suits from Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam that have never visited the factory and rely solely on the promise that the item is tested and safe. SFI makes verifying this very easy. Simply visit the SFI Foundation website, scroll down to manufacturers, click on view manufacturers, then scroll down to protective gear, restraints & nets. Click on driver suits SFI spec 3.2A Manufacturers. Every brand that participated in the program will be clearly listed. If the brand you are looking at isn’t listed, make them send you who actually makes their stuff in writing. Keep in mind failure doesn’t always come from over seas. In 2011 Impact Race Products was decertified for major SFI infractions.
Moral of the story is quite simple. If it seems to good to be true, too cheap, too fast or free, do your homework! Theres usually a problem somewhere