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Classified CIRCUIT BREAKER WARNING
CORROSION in ELECTRICAL PANELS
CUTLER HAMMER PANEL FIRE
DEFINITIONS of ELECTRICAL TERMS
DIRECTORY OF ELECTRICIANS
DMM Digital Multimeter, How to Use
ELECTRIC PANEL AMPACITY
ELECTRIC PANEL INSPECTION
ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION PANELS
ELECTRICAL GROUND SYSTEM INSPECTION
FEDERAL PACIFIC FPE HAZARDS
GFCI PROTECTION,Testing GFCIs AFCIs
Hertz - Definitions of KHz MHz GHz THz
LIGHTING, EXTERIOR GUIDE
LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE
LOW VOLTAGE BUILDING WIRING
MURRAY SIEMENS Recall
PHOTOVOLTAIC POWER SYSTEMS
PUSHMATIC - BULLDOG PANELS
RUST in ELECTRICAL PANELS
SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS
SE CABLE SIZES vs AMPS
SIEMENS MURRAY Recall
UNDERGROUND SERVICE LATERALS
VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP
ZINSCO SYLVANIA ELECTRICAL PANELS
FPE Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Electrical Panel & Circuit Breaker Hazards Home Page: here we explain the fire and shock hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels, provides a complete history of the FPE Hazard, and we provide and cite independent, unbiased research on FPE failures, and recommends replacement of the panels. Photographs are provided to aid in identification of Federal Pacific FPE Stab-Lok® equipment. The current status of FPE Stab-Lok®equipment hazards, recalls, product safety research, and consumer warnings can be found here.
Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment. We recommend that residential FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels be replaced entirely or the entire panel bus assembly be replaced, regardless of FPE model number or FPE year of manufacture. We do not sell circuit breakers nor any other products.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Circuit Breaker Hazard Current Status, Failures, Research, & History
For information on FPE Stab-Lok® equipment that can be copied to any website, see FPE Stab-Lok® Hazard Summary Page for Public Use
Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok® " service panels and breakers are a latent hazard and FPE circuit breakers can fail to trip in response to overcurrent, leading to electrical fires. The breakers may also fail to shut off internally even if the toggle is switched to "off." Some double-pole (240-Volt) FPE circuit breakers and single-pole FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers simply do not work safely.
There are other FPE panel-defects independent of the breaker problems, panel and panel-bus fires and arcing failures in some equipment. The failure rates for these circuit breakers were and still are significant. In some cases failure to trip occurs 60% of the time - a serious fire and electrical shock hazard.
Failures are documented in the CPSC study and by independent research. Additional independent testing and research are on-going and are reported here. FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels should be replaced. Do not simply swap in some replacement breakers. (Details are at FPE REPLACEMENT BREAKERS).
Please see SUMMARY OF PROBLEM for the full detail of this FPE topic.
Having reviewed documentation regarding this issue, and having discussed the issue with forensic experts in the field, we are convinced that a latent hazard exists where FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers continue in use. The hazard is worst for double-pole breakers. Published reports of actual tests that were performed indicate that under certain conditions it is possible for one leg of these circuits to attempt to trip the breaker, resulting in a jammed breaker which will afterward not trip under any load condition. A reader might infer from the CPSC 1983 press release that the manufacturer and some Commission members were of the opinion that these conditions would not occur in the field.
This is an erroneous conclusion. Some very common household appliances operate are powered by a two-pole 240V circuit (protected by the type of breaker under discussion) but use two or more independent 120V sub-circuits inside the appliance. Two obvious cases are electric clothes dryers and ranges. If, for example, the low-heat (110V) heater in a dryer were to short to the dryer case, a serious overcurrent would occur on one "leg" of the circuit.
Another wiring practice, using a single two-pole breaker to power a split circuit which uses a shared neutral, such as may be installed in kitchens in some areas, is nearly certain to have each leg of the circuit loaded independently and thus subject to single-leg overloading and subsequent breaker jamming. A breaker which jams and then fails to trip under this condition is, in our opinion, a serious fire hazard.
A more careful reading of the CPSC press release of March 3, 1984 suggests that the authors were careful NOT to conclude that there is no hazard, but simply that the information at hand did not prove the hazard, and that the Commission did not have funds to pursue testing. In this document, the representation that no real hazard exists is made by the manufacturer of the device - not exactly a neutral party, and even that wording is cautious in tone: "FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels." Readers should see the failure rates cited in the IAEI letter below.
It's the exceptions that cause fires. An FPE circuit breaker will appear to "work just fine" in passing along current to the circuit it feeds, until there is an overcurrent, short circuit, or similar condition. When those exceptional conditions occur, this equipment fails to protect the circuit and the building from overheating and fires, in some cases at a failure rate around 60% of the time. I estimate that the normal industry failure rate on circuit breakers is less than .01%.
Consumers should read and follow the Commission's advice regarding circuit breakers. But this advice is insufficient. The Commission's admonition to avoid overloading circuits and to turn off and have examined devices which seem to be creating a problem is a poor substitute for reliable, automatic, overcurrent protection. It is precisely because dangerous conditions can and do occur without adequate recognition and action by a consumer that circuit breakers and fuses are installed to provide overcurrent protection in the first place.
Therefore it is hardly an adequate "fix" for FPE breakers to just tell consumers to handle these cases manually.
It is possible that some individual FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers may perform with adequate reliability, possibly those manufactured after the companies discovered safety defects and improper practices in listing the product, and possibly those manufactured in Canada.
However, in absence of an explicit statement from the manufacturer and/or the US CPSC indicating that newer stock equipment is defect free, and considering that defects occur in both breakers and the panels themselves, and finally, that testing showed failures in both in-use equipment and new off-the-shelf devices, our advice to consumers and electricians is that these panels be replaced with newer equipment, particularly those which use 240-volt double-pole breakers described in the literature. In our opinion, if a fire or other hazard occurs with this device, neither the manufacturer nor the Commission, who have suggested in the press release that data was inconclusive or inadequate to establish a hazard, will accept responsibility for losses that may ensue.
However a building inspector, home inspector, or contractor who makes any warranty of safety, by virtue of his/her position close to the consumer, is certain bear this very liability.
Please see CANADIAN VERSIONS for the full version of this article.
In May 1999 we learned from Schneider Canada that Federal pioneer circuit breakers sold by that company are re-named from Federal Pacific circuit breakers and that two 15-amp single-pole models NC015 and NC015CP made between August 1, 1996 and June 11, 1997 have been recalled. The Schneider and Federal Pioneer as well as some Square-D recall notices are available here.
We asked the company engineer with whom we spoke if he could determine if Federal Pioneer and Federal Pacific components sold in Canada were made in the U.S. or if tooling used to produce them was identical with that used in the U.S. If this is the case (as one might expect based on economies of production) one should consider the possibility that other defects reported in the U.S. may also appear in Canadian installations.
The Federal Pioneer Warranty Alert was issued by the Ontario New Home Warranty program in October 1997 and provides for circuit breaker replacement. Schneider Canada is an electrical supplier whose product lines combine those previously marketed under the names Federal Pacific Electric, Federal Pioneer, Square-D, Tele Mechanique, Modicon, and Merlin Gerin.
Carl Grasso, an attorney who researched FPE failures for the New Jersey class action suit explains that since a portion of the safety defect with FPE breakers may be due to variations during manufacture, and since Canadian breakers may be manufactured in a different plant from those made in the U.S., it is possible that the field performance of Canadian breakers may be different than the U.S. design. Schneider Canada, the Federal Pioneer parent company, has not provided information regarding design or manufacture changes over the U.S. design, nor provided test data regarding the product.
As of May 2008 we have had a few reports of failures in the Canadian Federal Pioneer (Stab-Lok® ) equipment and also reports of failures of "replacement" FPE circuit breakers installed in U.S. panels. Having inspected some Canadian FPE (Federal Pioneer-brand) electric panels, we observed two ongoing concerns:
1.) the same bus design was used as in the U.S. equipment. I've seen very poor retention of breakers in the bus - in one house the breaker was held in place by duct tape, as the spring design in the contact of the breaker where it plugs into the special opening in the bus appears not to have held the breaker in place. We have also seen breakers modified with their inserting pins bent and modified to fit a breaker into a slot where it did not belong - a step that is impossible with other breaker designs.
2.) A similar or identical panel design may expose consumers to panel arcing and fires regardless of changes in the breakers themselves.
Aronstein/Lowry (2012), estimate that the potential savings from a ten-year replacement program for FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels in the U.S. alone would result in
These figures are difficult to translate into the cost/benefit of FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel replacement for an individual building owner. Worse, some building owners, particularly home sellers, may figure that electrical panel replacement is an avoidable cost that is of more benefit to future owners than to themselves.
The cost to replace an electrical panel is basically the cost of materials and labor: the cost of the new panel and breakers and the labor to remove the old panel and connect existing electrical circuits into the new one. The property owner or an electrician can buy a new electrical panel complete with circuit breakers for a cost ranging from under $100. U.S. to around $200. (depending on panel ampacity and number of circuit breakers) at most building supply stores. The cost of panel installation/replacement varies widely depending on where you live but typically ranges from $1000. to $2,500. .
A expert reviewer pointed out that:
We agree that there is a lot of folly in how individuals approach safety and risk. Here we address viewers who may be open to a more accurate understanding of the risk of fire, shock, etc.
In my OPINION [DF], considering the significant contribution of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment to house fires, replacing the equipment is likely to be less costly than the cost of a fire. If we wanted to make a completely emotionless assessment of the cost-benefit of replacing an unsafe electrical panel that is associated with about 2.5% of all of the annually reported electrical panels in the U.S. and is present in about 17 million homes in the U.S. as well as in many other buildings, or if we wanted to consider that there is about one fire per year for every 6000 FPE Stab-Lok® Panels in homes, let's say that your
To the costs you are avoiding, add
In my OPINION, one might infer that even if we were not willing to pay one cent to reduce the risk of the time, trouble, or even injury or death that might ensue from a house fire caused by an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel or breaker failure, that is, if we just consider the cost of a replacement electrical panel, replacing the panel is a good deal.
* GE PowerMark Gold 125 Amp 12-Space 24-Circuit Main Breaker Load Center Contractor Kit, Model # TM1212RCU1K, Internet # 100182490, Store SKU # 393844, retrieved 10/2/2012
For people who are unable to promptly replace an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel we recommend that you should be sure you have working smoke detectors properly installed and at least you will be able to sleep at night. Also see CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL?
How to report your FPE Stab-Lok® panel or circuit breaker Failure - Reporting Federal Pacific and Federal Pioneer Equipment Problems
Please see FPE INCIDENTS, HOW TO REPORT for full details of reporting FPE Stab-Lok® ™ and other electrical product failures
We invite voluntary field failure reports from readers who are aware of or who experience failures of Federal Pacific and Federal Pioneer equipment order to add to the existing data base.
In addition to informing us of an FPE Stab-Lok® or Federal Pioneer electrical panel or breaker event so that we can add this incident report to the data base we maintain, we encourage readers to report such events also to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission - it's easy: you can use a simple form at the CPSC's website: https://www.cpsc.gov/incident.html or you can send the CPSC email on incidents to: email@example.com
There is no requirement that failures be reported to us for tabulation here. This website is not a government or other official document, nor does it receive nor request funding. Contact the author.
Citation by brief quote or links-to this website are invited,
provided you credit this source website InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
There is no financial recourse, no product recall, no financial help, no warranty claim, no replacement fund currently available for FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels except for a very limited class action result in the state of New Jersey. New Jersey residents can see New Jersey FPE Class Action 2005 for more information.
For more information about the cost of panel replacement, FPE replacement options, electricians, and an approach that can save part of replacement cost in some cases: see the articles listed just below
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the FPE Stab-Lok® ® Circuit Breaker Hazard: identification, repair/replacement advice, product history
Before Mechanical Operations
After Mechanical Operations
No-trip: 200% of rating, both poles
No-trip: 200% of rating, individual poles
No-trip: 135% of rating, both poles*
No-trip: 135% of rating, individual poles
Trip: 100% of rating, both poles*
Dielectric Breakdown (short)*
TABLE 1 - SUMMARY OF FAILURES
*UL 489 Test Conditions
The failures appeared. among breakers of all ratings, none were failure-free. Most of the "no-trip' conditions were sustained for four hours well beyond the UL specification. These were not marginal failures with respect to the failure criteria. The data suggests that, on the average, the mechanical operations result in increased failures. This was .'not strictly the case on a sample-to-sample basis.
The failures relate to hazardous conditions in at least two ways. First, a fault in the wiring or utilization equipment which causes excessive- current-can result in fire if the circuit is not opened by the breaker -- this is its principal functional requirement. Secondly, it was determined in these tests that some of the breakers overheat to hazardous levels when subjected to overcurrent conditions (due to their own failure to trip) for sustained periods of time. The overheating can result in incapacitation of the breaker (i.e.: it will no longer open under any condition), and the temperature can be high enough to ignite fire in the vicinity of the breaker, as evidenced by charring of the case on some samples.
NOTE: this text is quoted verbatim from pages 3-5 of "Calibration and Condition Tests of Molded Case Circuit Breakers, Final Report: Contract CPSC-C-81-1429 December 30, 1982," obtained from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission as a FOIA request.
This paper describes how to identify Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels in buildings. It is information for building inspectors, home buyers, home owners, electricians exploring the background of possible hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels.
To identify the circuit breaker panels and breakers discussed at the FPE information website you should look for the product name "Federal Pacific Stab Lok" or "Federal Pioneer Stab Lok" on the equipment. If all product identification labels have been removed, look at the various photos of FPE panels which you can find at the Federal Pacific Electric Stab Lok Panel website, and at several of the articles at that website, e.g. See Hazardous FPE Circuit Breakers and Panels.
Watch out: SAFETY WARNING - FATAL SHOCK HAZARD - If it is necessary to remove an electric panel cover to inspect the panel interior, buses, or other components, you should hire a licensed electrician for that purpose. Unless you are a licensed electrician, DO NOT REMOVE ELECTRIC PANEL COVERS, DO NOT INSERT TOOLS INTO ELECTRIC PANELS, DO NOT TOUCH LIVE ELECTRICAL PARTS such as screws, buses, bare wires, or anything that is inside of the electric panel.
This warning does not prohibit unlatching and swinging open the normal hinged panel covers provided for use by the homeowner to permit access to circuit breaker switches themselves. The warning refers to disassembling, unscrewing, or otherwise modifying or operating on an electric panel. Live wires and contacts inside of an electric panel can, if touched, cause fatal shock - death. If you are uncertain of what is safe to touch, do not touch any part of the equipment.
Three Stab-Lok® bus designs were used in these panels and can be identified by an electrician on disassembly of some panel components.
The following is a personal opinion by the website author:
From our knowledge of the history, pattern, and nature of FPE manufacturing and management difficulties, we suspect the entire product line may have had defects, labeling errors, safety, or other performance issues for both commercial and residential equipment, where circuit breakers and panels are concerned. (I don't have similar criticism of the older FUSE equipment).
However we have test data only for the FPE Stab-Lok® series of residential electrical panels and circuit breakers. The "Stab-Lok® " product involves a specific electrical panel, bus, and circuit breaker design. Therefore the FPE Stab-Lok® Panel Website only includes research and warnings for this specific product line.
People write to ask if their Federal Pacific Electric equipment is "OK" based on a particular age of their house and presumably of the panel. "Year" criteria is not useful in evaluating risk as there is no data that demonstrates that FPE Stab-Lok® equipment is better or worse after specific dates. Furthermore, the age of a piece of equipment installed in a house can be older or newer than the age of the house itself.
The following dates are excerpted from various public documents, all of which can be found at this website:
1979 Reliance Electric acquired the [bankrupt] Federal Pacific Electric Company from UV Industries.
June 1980, Reliance Electric and FPE brought suit against UV Industries [a liquidating trust which previously handled the assets of the bankrupt FPE company.] for damages of $345 million or for rescission of the previous sale by UV of the FPE line to Reliance, referring to deceptive practices which went on for years on obtaining UL listing for FPE products.
5 July 1980: Reliance Electric stopped shipping FPE Stab-Lok® equipment on or about July 5, 1980. Keep in mind that equipment in the pipeline in supply houses was never recalled, so homes built considerably after that date may still have an FPE Stab-Lok® panel installed.
21 July 1980: Business Week magazine reports on FPE/Reliance Electric scandal.
September 1980: Reliance Electric brought legal action against Sharon Steel Company which had assumed the liabilities of UV Liquidation.
17 February 1981: Federal Pacific announced that it would voluntarily replace or field modify certain models of its [predominantly commercial and industrial] molded case circuit breaker line. [No recall, no field repair was offered for residential equipment.] Funds were set aside for this replacement [but may not have been expended.]
31 March 1982: Reliance Electric Financial Statements acknowledge that FPE previously obtained UL Listings by fraudulent means and that at "some point thereafter, lost their UL listing."
(Aronstein) provide report of independent testing and failures of FPE Stab-Lok® breakers.
CPSC management halts testing of FPE Breakers, citing high costs of continuing the project. The announcement does not exonerate the product and includes generic warnings to consumers.
11 October 1995: The FPE Stab-Lok® Website created by DJ Friedman as a consumer information and failure research project.
14 October 1997: Ontario Canada Home Warranty Program issues a warning regarding Canadian Federal Pioneer [Canadian version of FPE Stab-Lok® ] equipment provided by Schneider Electric if made in 1996 and 1997, and announces a recall program for Canadians.
May 1999 :FPE Stab Lok Website author converses with Schneider Electric re: Federal Pioneer Equipment - further data not forthcoming.
December 1999: Ohio FPE Stab-Lok® failure-caused panel-fire documented at the website.
June 1999: IAEI International Association of Electrical Inspectors publishes anonymously and disclaimed, an article [penned by a previous FPE employee] - stating that there have never been failure, safety, or other issues with FPE Stab-Lok® equipment.
21 February 2004: Update of ongoing FPE Failure testing reported to ASHI - American Society of Home Inspectors [this topic has been reported to ASHI previously and has been addressed at ASHI conferences and seminars.
But it's more complicated than that. The company actually changed the design from time to time (without necessarily telling anyone). On the other hand, No one has provided any technical or even anecdotal data suggesting that any of these changes corrected basic design flaws. In addition, there was the problem of equipment UL-listing label swapping and therefore mislabeling individual pieces of equipment, therefore incorrectly stating the use to which individual pieces of equipment could be applied.
FPE USA stopped making equipment quite a while ago, but Stab-Lok® (TM) panels and circuit breakers continued to be produced in Canada, under the name Federal Pioneer, a Canadian "FPE" company which was later bought by Schneider Electric, also in Canada. "Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and panels continue to be available even still as "new" today. Some of our Canadian contacts claim that the Canadian product was better than the U.S.-made version but my own first-hand view of some of it in the home of a Canadian Home inspector was that it was just as bad. (The circuit breakers had to be held into the panel using adhesive tape!)
Several years ago we called Schneider Electric and was able to speak with a Schneider engineer about this product. We asked if they had changed the design to fix any of the inherent problems with the product series over the U.S. version. We were promised an answer to this question - the engineer was quite polite. But in follow-up calls no one at the company wanted to provide any information about this product.
If a manufacturer cannot, or will not provide their supporting test or other data for a product home inspectors and electricians are forced to err on the safe side by refusing to endorse it. "Trust me" just doesn't cut it where electrical safety is concerned.
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NOTE: This document has been entered verbatim from the original document. Very important safety remarks and independent study reports of FPE hazards and advice about what to do can be found at More Information about FPE.
FOR RELEASE: MARCH 3, 1983
COMMISSION CLOSES INVESTIGATION OF FPE CIRCUIT BREAKERS AND PROVIDES SAFETY INFORMATION FOR CONSUMERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today that it is closing its two year investigation into Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® type residential circuit breakers. This action was taken because the data currently available to the Commission does not establish that the circuit breakers present a serious risk of injury to consumers.
The Commission investigation into Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breakers began in June, 1980, when Reliance Electric Co., a subsidiary of Exxon Corporation and the parent to FPE, reported to the Commission that many FPE circuit breakers did not fully comply with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) requirements. Commission testing confirmed that these breakers fail under certain UL calibration test requirements. The Commission investigation focused primarily on 2-pole residential circuit breakers manufactured before Reliance acquired FPE in 1979.
To meet UL standards, residential circuit breakers must pass a number of so-called "calibration tests." The purpose of these tests is to determine whether the circuit breakers will hold the current for which they are rated and also automatically open or "trip" (shut off the current) within the specified time limits if over-loading of the circuit breakers causes current levels in excess of the breaker's amperage rating. (Overloading can occur because a consumer plugs too many products into a circuit or due to the failure of a product or component connected to that circuit.) While the Commission is concerned about the failure of these FPE breakers to meet UL calibration requirements, the Commission is unable at this time to link these failures to the development of a hazardous situation.
According to Reliance, failure of these FPE breakers to comply with certain UL calibration requirements do not create a hazard in the household environment. It is Reliance's position that FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels unless the breakers have been operated in a repetitive, abusive manner that should not occur during residential use. Reliance maintains that, at those few overload levels where FPE breakers may fail to trip under realistic use conditions, currents will be too low to generate hazardous temperatures in household wiring. Reliance believes that its position in this regard is supported by test data that is provided to the Commission.
The Commission staff believes that it currently has insufficient data to accept or refute Reliance's position.
The Commission staff estimates that it would cost several million dollars to gather the data necessary to assess fully whether those circuit breakers which are installed in homes but which may fail UL calibration tests present a risk to the public. Based on the Commission's limited budget ($34 million for fiscal year 1983), the known hazards the Commission has identified and must address (involving products of other manufacturers) and the uncertainty of the results of such a costly investigation, the Commission has decided not to commit further resources to its investigation of FPE's circuit breakers. However, despite its decision to close this particular investigation, the Commission will continue its investigation of circuit breakers generally. The Commission can reopen its investigation of FPE breakers if further information warrants.
The Commission advises consumers to take certain safety precautions with all circuit breakers and fuses. Consumers should:
-Know your electrical circuit. Know which outlets and products are connected to each circuit.
-Never overload any electrical circuit by connecting too many products to the circuit. Be particularly careful not to connect several products that demand high current (such as heating appliances) to a low amperage circuit.
-Comply with local building codes in wiring or adding electrical circuits. Make sure the wiring and devices used in the circuit are connected to a circuit breaker or fuse of the
-Immediately disconnect any electrical product if problems develop. Have the product examined by a competent repair person.
-Investigate to determine why a fuse blows or circuit breaker trips. Do not simply replace the fuse or reset the breaker. If a fuse blows or breaker trips, it is often a warning that the circuit is overloaded. Check the circuit for causes of overloading (for example, too many appliances plugged in, a malfunctioning product, a short circuit). When in doubt, consult a licensed electrician.
Consumers who have questions concerning circuit breakers, or who wish to report information relating to their safety, may call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's toll-free safety hotline at 800-638-CPSC, teletypewriter for the hearing impaired at 800-638-8270 (Maryland only 800-492-8104).
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Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok® Information for your website: for information on FPE Stab-Lok® equipment that can be copied to your website, see FPE Stab-Lok® Hazard Summary Page for Public Use