What are the standards?
Electrical safety testing is essential to ensure safe operating standards for any product that uses electricity, regardless of its power and or voltage rating. Various governments and agencies have developed stringent requirements for electrical products sold globally. In most markets it is mandatory for a product to conform to safety standards certified by an independent third party agency such as UL, VDE, ETL, CSA, TUV, or IEC.
To conform to such standards, the systems or products must pass various safety tests for their intended application. Tests may include Insulation Resistance Test, Dead Short test, Ground (Earth) Bond & Ground Continuity Test, Leakage Current Test (also called as Line Leakage Test, Earth Leakage Current Test, Enclosure Leakage Current Test or Patient Leakage Current Test).
Component only testing versus systems tested and listed for safety
Testing multiple components together as one working system for safety is paramount. Having individual components, some with safety approvals and some without, combined to work as one ‘product’ without a system test can be dangerous. For example, using a controller that does not have the proper fuse size (for current protection) or wire harness gauge could lead to system damage, shock or even fire.
When a solar lighting product or system does not carry a recognized mark for safety, all major electrical components (solar panel, controller, battery, fuse protection, etc.) should carry a safety mark.
Self-imposed safety marks versus independent safety (CE versus UL)
Some industry approvals are self-imposed and not independently verified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) accepted by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). For example, a CE marking is a European marking of conformity that indicates a product complies with the requirements of the applicable European laws or directives. The European community established the CE marking system to ensure free movement of products between member countries and to remove internal barriers to trade. The CE marking is a legally required marking in the European Union (EU) and applies to a variety of product categories. It is usually a manufacturer’s self-declaration that the product complies with European laws and may not include independent third party assessment to safety requirements.
Most products bearing the CE mark are not required to be third party certified, or subject to ongoing factory surveillance of production, as such they may not be compliant with applicable U.S. product safety standards.
Examples of OSHA recognized NRTLs include UL, CSA, FM, TUV and ETL. UL is an independent third party organization that has no bias nor sales goals to achieve. UL has a rigorous testing phase and conducts regular factory audits to ensure manufacturers maintain minimum safety standards to ensure consumers are receiving a tested, safe system or product.
For a complete list of federally approved NRTLs visit: https://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtllist.html
What safety listing or approval is right for your application?
While every application may be different, it is important to ensure you have a system or product that meets an internationally recognized set of safety standards. Research the National Electrical Code and or contact your local government for jurisdictional approval standards.