Myth Buster: The Truth About ETL

Everyone is familiar with the UL listing, but it’s not the only reputable resource available to certify electrical products are safe. By Carl Bloomfield

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#c63d2d”]I[/dropcap]ntertek’s ETL Listed Mark is proof that electrical products, including lighting, have been independently tested and meet applicable published safety standards. The mark has its roots in one of lighting’s pioneers: Thomas Edison. In 1896, he created the Lamp Testing Bureau to test his light bulbs, and in 1904 the company was renamed Electrical Testing Laboratories as Edison moved into testing other inventions. The name Electrical Testing Laboratories was eventually shortened to ETL. Today, the ETL Mark is the fastest-growing safety certification in North America and is featured on millions of products.

Despite its rich history and growing recognition, the ETL Mark is often misunderstood. Some manufacturers may mistakenly believe that the mark is somehow not as good or valid as other certification marks, yet as a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), Intertek uses the same safety standards as others in the industry. With a history going back more than 120 years, ETL has proven to be a valid option for manufacturers. Let’s address some of the common myths about the ETL Mark.

Myth #1: Certification Marks Come From a Government Agency

In North America, there are both Standards Development Organizations (SDO) and U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) NRTLs. It’s important to note that it is common to have a single SDO for each country based on product type. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) functions as both an SDO as well as an NRTL. In the U.S., all NRTLs certify products to ANSI/UL standards, while in Canada NRTLs certify to CAN/CSA standards, and in international markets IEC standards are primarily used.

As an OSHA NRTL, Intertek evaluates products and issues the ETL Mark to those that comply with the applicable ANSI/UL standard in the U.S. or CAN/CSA in Canada. While the mark signifies the product’s compliance to government standards, it does not come from a government agency.

Myth #2: The ETL Process Is Not as Thorough as Others

Accreditation by OSHA is equal — all participating labs are held to the same requirements and the testing and certification process is similar across the board. Additionally, the standards for a given product dictate what must be evaluated, as well as the results that will be considered acceptable. While the requirements are the same for all NRTLs, since joining the program soon after its inception, Intertek has worked hard to refine and perfect a quality manual used globally throughout the company. This manual sets forth robust processes and thorough procedures for the testing and certification of products, making the ETL process, if anything, one of the most thorough options available to lighting manufacturers.

Myth #3: Intertek Doesn’t Write Standards

It is true that Intertek is focused entirely on assurance, testing, inspection, and certification activities. To that end, the company does not publish any standards or regulations, nor do any standards or regulation bear Intertek’s name. However, Intertek subject matter experts serve on both global and regional committees to advise organizations that issue the standards and requirements. In some cases, Intertek experts serve as the chairs of regulation committees. This means the company has a proverbial seat at the table for developing safety and performance standards for several industries, including lighting.

Myth #4: ETL Testers Are Not as Familiar With Testing Requirements

While the regulations and standards may not bear Intertek’s name, as mentioned above, the company sits on the committees and standards technical panels that establish the requirements for various industries, including lighting. This means ETL experts have an intimate knowledge of testing requirements. Coupled with continuing education, extensive experience, plus years of expertise, professionals who test and certify with the ETL Mark are extremely knowledgeable on the standards, regulations, test methods, and requirements that lighting products and components must meet in order to qualify.

Myth #5: ETL Doesn’t Certify Components That Other NRTLs Will Accept

Lighting components can be ETL-certified; the option is available for batteries, wiring, cabling, LED drivers, ballasts, and many other components. In fact, most NRTLs will accept components from other labs. Likewise, Intertek will accept components certified by another NRTL. This is because component certification offers manufacturers faster, more flexible options. Recognizing this, Intertek established programs like the first-in-kind Class P program for LED drivers. The program allows luminaire manufacturers to replace a listed Class P LED driver with another of equivalent rating by any manufacturer, without retesting or reviewing drivers and reports for each new driver.

Myth #6: Intertek Only Does Safety Certification

A product bearing an ETL Mark has been found to meet the requirements of the applicable safety standard, but often these requirements go beyond safety and include performance guidelines, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), and environmental considerations. Some products certified by ETL can undergo additional testing requested by a manufacturer for performance and quality or for additional certifications such as EnergyStar, Intertek’s Green Leaf Mark, or a Quality & Performance Mark.

Myth #7: ETL Does Not Apply to Canada

Intertek is a global total quality assurance provider with labs and offices in more than 100 countries, including Canada. In addition to being a NRTL under OSHA, Intertek is accredited as a testing organization and certification body by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). As such, the ETL Mark is accepted not only in the U.S., but throughout Canada as well.

In an industry that is always evolving and moving at a fast pace, it can be challenging to keep track of all the options available to help bring products to market. It can also be a comfort to fall back on commonly held beliefs and myths. Yet it’s important to address the myths in order to understand aspects of the industry, such as how OSHA’s NRTL program works and not discount a certification option whose roots date back to the start of the industry and is backed by extensive knowledge, experience, and expertise. 

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