- What percentage of user injuries can be caused by my product?
- How many fires are acceptable in a hospital or school?
- Is it acceptable to allow user injuries if they don’t read the manual?
These are questions faced by companies designing electrical products for public use. The answer leads to vastly different actions by their engineering teams. They have to decide whether the goal is 0.01% or 0. And the actions one takes to achieve 0 are far more extensive than it is if a low rate of injury is allowable.
Designing a truly safe product requires redundant safety features, special abuse tests, both component and full system level certifications to all government standards. Products that contain AC power or have the potential to cause physical injury or death. When used in public places such as hospitals and schools, they have the potential to be exposed to non-technical and non-experienced users. A higher level of safety therefore applies, and OSHA has extensive requirements defined for almost any such product.
However, you would also be surprised at how frequently companies get away with unsafe design practices and simply don’t bother to meet the regulatory standards defined by OSHA. In our business, we have several competitors offering computer carts with battery power systems that are not certified to the OSHA-required standard of UL-60601-1. You should be aware that cost and schedule conscious suppliers may feel pressure to deliver products without the legally required certifications since it may cost tens of thousands of dollars and add months to the development schedule.
Skipping certification means skipping crucial fire safety, electrical safety, EMI and mechanical safety testing. We have tested many competitor products and have seen inadequate ground paths (which could cause shocks), lack of flame retarded plastics around high power components (fire hazard), small gauge wire with inadequate strain relief (fire and shock hazard), improper thermal systems (fire hazard), pinch points, and many other serious problems in products publicly available for sales into hospitals. All these safety issues are possible even if the product is constructed of UL-approved components.
To be a good consumer and ensure the highest safety standards of the products you adopt, please be aware of the following misleading marketing statements. The only thing you know for sure if you see these statements, is that the product is NOT certified to the proper standard.
- Tested to UL Standards
- Designed to UL Standards
- Constructed of UL Components
These statements may indicate that the system has been tested and failed, the system was not completely tested, or the system was not tested at all! These are not satisfactory answers and should be explored further to determine if full UL certification truly exists.
There is a simple way to tell if a product meets certification requirements–it will have a UL or other regulatory sticker on the outside of the product.
“UL Listed” or “UL Certified” verbiage in sales and marketing literature means a UL sticker and certificate have been earned (like the one shown here). These products have met the OSHA requirements. You can feel confident you and all that come in contact with the system will have the safest possible experience.
If you are responsible for purchasing electrical products for public use, you need to put pressure on manufacturers of non-certified products. These products are not safe for you to purchase and expose to your employees.
Safe products are your right, and your responsibility, whether you are a designer, manufacturer, or purchaser.
President, Ergotron, Inc.