UL Takes a Stand

If you look at the back of a smoke detector or other life safety device you will most likely see one or more logos from agencies that have tested and approved the device. Otherwise known as a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), these organizations hold considerable influence in the industry and subsequently with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The only way to ensure that the same specification will apply to different devices manufactured by various companies is to ascertain they all meet the minimum performance requirements of the same test.

Manufactures have been submitting their products to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent product safety certification organization and NRTL, for nearly 100 years. The system has worked well--until recently.

Manufacturers have been complaining about a minimum of 18 months to get products tested.

Some manufactures have tried to speed up the process by sending unfinished products to UL to reserve their place in line and replacing it with the completed device.

“The number of complaints regarding delays in getting products UL listed have dropped considerably over the last six to 12 months,” explained Robert Tockarshewsky, global marketing director for Fire, Security and Signaling Services, Underwriters Laboratories. “The delays that plagued many of our clients in the past were due to our inability to have enough capacity in the face of increased demand caused by an extensive file review of UL 864 Ninth Edition. The complexity of the file review, combined with UL's limited capacity overwhelmed us and this increased work volume had a ripple effect. UL has been adding staff over the past 18 months and we are now at our highest head count ever. Average turnaround testing time for a fire control panel is now at roughly three months, as opposed to previously being in excess of seven months.”

Still, some manufacturers have sought an alternative. Intertek listing devices under the ETL listed mark was another NRTL alternative. ETL tests to the same ANSI standards as UL. According to Tom Connaughton of ETL a device is typically tested in about four months.

So if AHJs and insurance companies accept ETL or other NRTLs as equivalent, what's the issue? As part of their listing program UL also runs certificate programs for the installation of fire and burglar alarm systems as well as central station services. These types of installations for high risk subscribers often require the issuance of a UL certificate in order for the subscriber to obtain insurance. As part of their fire codes some municipalities require a UL certificate as part of the acceptance procedure.

When an installing company provides a UL certificate, the methods of installation and all the components that make up the system satisfy UL standards. Each year UL visits each listed company and does field inspections to a sample of installations in each certificate category to ensure compliance. In this case UL becomes the AHJ.

Devices without the UL mark even if listed by another lab cannot be used on a UL certificate job. This leaves the installer at a marked disadvantage since some new devices currently are being released with only the ETL listing, though they may be waiting for a UL listing as well.

To address this issue ETL has begun a certificate program of their own. According to Connaughton, the ETL program will accept devices listed by other NRTL's and will have both central station and installation certificate programs. As an incentive, central stations that are currently listed under the UL mark can become listed for free under the ETL mark for the first year.

It is unlikely companies that currently have UL listings would switch to ETL or have dual listings, yet companies seeking to become listed do have a choice.

Mark Fischer, vice president and chief technology officer at New York Merchants Protective Co., Freeport, N.Y.