As defined by the National Electrical Code (NEC), an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is “an organization, office or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation or a procedure.” The number-one priority of AHJs is ensuring the safety of both people and property. As an electrical inspector, you are tasked with evaluating the safety of products, equipment, and systems to ensure they meet current safety requirements. But before you get to the point of inspection, the NEC requires that many electrical products be listed and labeled with a mark that certifies the product complies with the relevant standards.
That’s where an accredited Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) like Intertek comes into play. We (and other NRTLs) work with electrical product manufacturers – everything from lighting products and home appliances to solar installations and medical devices – to test their products for safety, ultimately ensuring the compliance of their products. An essential step in the electrical product development process, testing, and certification provide assurance to inspectors, distributors, retailers, and consumers.
Certification starts with standards outlined by organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which provide a framework of requirements and guidelines for product safety and performance. Standards can be required or regulatory, or voluntary for compliance. In the United States, the NRTLs that conduct testing are accredited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, accreditation of independent third-party testing labs and certification bodies (CBs) is granted via the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). Many Canadian CBs are also NRTLs in the U.S.
To commence any electrical product testing project, the NRTL first identifies the applicable standard(s) based on the type of product, its intended use, and the environment in which it will operate. From there, a test plan is developed, which guides the safety and performance assessment process using samples provided by the manufacturers. The samples are a representative outcome of the standard manufacturing process, using the same materials, composition, and processes that will be used to manufacture the product going forward. If the sample fails, then the product fails. If the sample passes, then the products manufactured in the future based on the sample will also pass.
The samples are evaluated for overall safety, function, performance, and/or adherence to codes, resulting in a test report that summarizes the test methods used, data collected during testing, and the outcome. The test report confirms whether the product complies with the relevant standards. If certification is not a requirement, the test report serves as the final deliverable, and products can be placed on the market. If certification for listing is required, the test report is used in that process.
Certification verifies that a product complies with a safety standard(s) required for it to be placed on the market. Certified products display a certification mark from an accredited NRTL, which demonstrates that product samples have been evaluated to relevant standards and meet the applicable certification requirements.
Once testing is completed, the test report and any additional documentation is sent for technical review, followed by a certification review. After satisfactory technical and certification reviews are completed, a mark/label review occurs. When all three levels of analysis are finished, most labs will issue certification and list the product in a relevant directory. However, follow-up inspections and certification maintenance do continue as long as the product is available on the market.
Manufacturers apply the mark to the product, packaging, and/or product manuals, per marking guidance from the lab. A listing mark indicates a product complied with applicable standards when it left the manufacturing location. Changes, alterations, or reconditioning will invalidate the certification, and such equipment should be re-evaluated and re-certified.
Like AHJs, it is the NRTL’s goal to ensure the safety of people and property through appropriate and relevant evaluation, testing, and certification of the electrical products used and installed in homes, commercial buildings, hospitals, factories, and other locations. As you can see, the testing and certification process is essential in the development, manufacture, and ultimate use of electrical products.