Product Development – Safety Certifications

By Mike Anderson
Published on: April 21, 2017

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This is a 6-part series.

To Read Part 1 – Vaporware Wars – Go here.

To Read Part 2 – How Products are Chosen for Development – Go here.

To Read Part 3 – Product Development – Investigation – Go here.

To Read Part 4 – Product Design, Part 1 – Go here.

To Read Part 5 – Product Design, Part 2 – Go here.

You’ve probably noticed various symbols on products and maybe you’ve even wondered what they mean.  These are marks representing safety testing and certification agencies.  For product developers, they mean added time and cost, and all too often, the amount of either of those is hard to predict.

Often, designs fail the initial testing and suggestions are made for improvement.  Changes get made and testing begins again.  This process continues until the product passes the certification.  This becomes time consuming and expensive.  Many of the tests are “Destructive Tests” meaning the product is tested until failure, frequently resulting in the destruction of the product.

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires products to be tested for safety by a third-party, Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). These tests are to certify that the product meets certain safety standards.  The standards are established by consensus of government agencies, consumer groups, insurance companies and the standards organizations themselves.

Products must display the mark of the certifying agency.  The required certifications vary by product type and markets in which they will be sold.  Different countries have different requirements, and products that are sold in multiple countries will have multiple marks.

Most products will display one of the following marks:

      Underwriter’s Laboratories.  UL was founded in 1894 and is the defacto benchmark for safety testing in the United States.  The basic mark is often shown with a “C” and “US” on either side with a note that indicates the relevant standard.  The “C” means that the tested product complies with standards of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

      The Canadian Standards Association.  This is the safety standards organization for Canada.  CSA also offers testing to US standards.  When the mark includes the “C” and the “US”, the product conforms to standards in both countries.

      Electronic Testing Laboratories, now a part of Intertek Group.

       Technischer Überwachungsverein (English Translation: Technical Inspection Association; commonly called TUV).

Companies may utilize any of these agencies to certify that their products meet the safety standards.  When a product is sold in multiple countries, other marks may also be displayed.

The product meets the requirements of the applicable directives of the European Economic Area.  The marking means that the manufacturer or importer claims compliance with the relevant legislation.  There is no third-party certification for this mark, but a declaration of conformity must be maintained and made available to any authorities that request it.   This declaration is frequently provided by the testing agency as a part of the safety standards testing.

In addition to safety requirements, products may be required to conform to other kinds of standards, depending on the product type and the countries in which it will be sold.

The product complies with the electromagnetic interference regulations of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Parts 15 and 18 of these regulations apply to products that radiate, or may be vulnerable to radio interference.

The product conforms to the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. That’s short for “Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment” that was adopted by the European Union.  Often referred to as the “lead free” directive, it bans the use of 10 different substances.

The product conforms to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive that was adopted by the European Union.  Commonly called the “Wheelie Bin”, it indicates that the product contains a certain percentage of recyclable materials, and that the manufacturer has made provisions for the collection and recycling of those products.  Products with symbols that do not have the lower black bar, were manufactured prior to 2005 and the owner of the product is obligated to make provisions for its recycling.

As an installer, these marks are important.  Installing non-certified products will increase your exposure to liability.  Non-certified products may also jeopardize your insurance protection.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson

Mike is the CEO of AVidea Group, a firm that provides product development service for consumer technology companies. Previously, he was founder and president of TiO, and worked in the industry for notable manufacturers Russound, Niles Audio and JVC. He holds an MBA from Cal State.

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