Product Certification

Industry veterans debate what the European request to change the product certification process in the United States could mean for the electrical industry

I must admit, when I buy a product for personal use, I don't think a lot about the testing that went into its development. Sure, I worry about the product's look and feel, as well as its durability and potential life span, but rarely do I think much about its safety. I guess I've become somewhat complacent, believing if the product wasn't safe then it wouldn't be available for purchase.

I'm also guilty of ignoring or forgetting about the product registration card that's inside the box or packaging. If I don't complete this document and mail it off as soon as I open the package, there's a good chance it's going to end up in a pile of papers somewhere on my desk — never to be followed up on again. A recent experience with a lightweight rechargeable vacuum, however, served as a good reminder for me to pay closer attention to those product registration cards.

It seems the rechargeable battery pack for this particular make and model of floor vacuum my wife purchased was susceptible to overheating and was now being recalled from the market for replacement. Apparently, some units had actually even caught fire. If I hadn't filled out the product registration card, I would have never known of this potential fire hazard in my own home. Fortunately, the manufacturer sent me a letter summarizing the hazard and then shipped me a replacement unit at no charge.

This experience made me think a little harder about the initial testing this product should have been put through on the front end by the manufacturer prior to its release to market. It also got me thinking more about the certification and testing processes for electrical products you all work with on a daily basis. What group oversees this testing and certification process? Does it vary by state or country? Who is approved to administer and oversee these tests? What processes must manufacturers go through before their products can be released to the market? Although I'm somewhat familiar with testing laboratories like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Intertek Testing Services (ITS), and FM Approvals, I'm by no means an expert in the overall product certification and testing process.

Coincidentally, about the same time I was thinking about my personal situation with my home appliance, I also caught wind of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) project that's studying the use of a Supplier's Declaration of Conformity (SDoC) in the United States as an alternative to third-party, independent testing and certification of electrical products. Taking all of these factors into consideration, it sounded like the perfect opportunity for us to dig into this topic a little deeper and educate not only ourselves, but also many of you who might not be that familiar with the latest testing and certification processes either. Staff Writer Beck Ireland researched the topic and interviewed some key players in the testing world to come up with this month's cover story, “Fair Trade,” starting on page 26. If you feel you've also become a little complacent on this front, hopefully this article will encourage you to start asking a few more questions about how products are tested and certified before they reach your hands prior to specification or installation. Discussing the European request to change the electrical product certification process in the United States, the cover story also gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what some electrical veterans and industry associations believe this proposal, if adopted, could mean for our industry.

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