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Underwriters Laboratories:
Setting Safety Standards for 100 Years

by Sonya Bird, Sarah Brooks, and Deborah Prince

While Underwriters Laboratories Inc. is respected as an independent, non-profit organization providing global testing and certification services, it is also a world leader in standards development. Through more than a century of involvement in standards and conformity assessment, UL is recognized for its unrivaled technical expertise in the areas in which it develops standards. UL’s safety standards are used throughout the world to evaluate and certify products and systems for the U.S. market. As UL’s standards continue to be used as a basis for harmonization with other international standards, they increasingly will be used for markets around the world.

UL’s standards are consensus documents used by many parties:

• Manufacturers, which use the standards to design products and systems that meet requirements for certification;
• Regulatory authorities, which reference the standards for products and systems used in their jurisdictions;
• Code development organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association and International Code Council, and government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which adopt and reference UL safety standards; and
• Certification organizations, which apply UL requirements for product evaluations.

Although deeply rooted in its public safety mission, UL has recently updated its process for standards development and maintenance to facilitate a broader range of participants and to reflect the changing needs of the standards community. UL continues this outreach through its support for internationally harmonized standards. UL has also committed numerous resources to making the standards development process more streamlined, establishing dedicated technical leadership positions, and working toward the latest Web-based technology to develop and distribute standards.

UL’s Standards Development Process

The UL standards development process is based on the essential elements of the American National Standards Institute’s standards development criteria. The process incorporates the following concepts:

• Continuous maintenance and open participation: UL continually monitors input from various users of UL standards and other interested groups addressing particular issues. Input is provided by industry, consumer groups, insurance representatives, and government agencies as well as by regulatory authorities, trade associations, and advisory groups. Anyone materially affected by a UL standard is encouraged to submit proposals. Standards Technical Panel meetings that result from proposals or are otherwise convened by UL are open.
• Consensus body review and ballot: Proposals to develop or revise a standard are balloted by the STP, the consensus body. Proposals must reach consensus — approval by two-thirds of returned votes — before UL publishes the requirements.
• Public review: UL provides public notice of, and the opportunity to comment on, all proposals.
• Comment resolution and circulation of substantive changes: All comments received on proposals are given due consideration. The disposition of comments is shared with participants, and substantive revisions to proposals resulting from the comments, along with continuing objections, are circulated. Consensus is verified during this phase.
• Opportunity for appeal: STP and public review participants with continuing objections have the right to appeal UL’s intention to publish proposals that have completed the consensus process.
• Publication of revisions to the standard: UL notifies STP members and provides public notice of this phase of the process.

Recent Enhancements to UL’s Standards Development Process

UL continually strives to improve and streamline its methods of developing, maintaining, and publishing standards. UL has recently identified key process and technology improvements in standards development methods.

• The establishment of dedicated full-time STP chairs and primary designated engineers, who will devote their time solely to technical standards development activities and focus on larger standards issues such as harmonization, will improve the process.
• Conversion of UL standards documents to SGML (standard
generalized markup language) has enabled UL to provide documents in a wide variety of media in addition to traditional printed standards.

UL as a Standards Developer in the Future

The future of UL as a standards developer will require it to keep pace with emerging technology, anticipate new challenges and market demands, respond with flexible and efficient processes for developing standards, and remain committed to its historic mission of public safety. UL addresses these factors through two key initiatives: international harmonization and electronic standards development.

International Harmonization

A key ingredient in UL’s future outlook is its commitment to international harmonization. Historically, UL has developed standards independently of other standards development organizations. This independent approach was sufficient when the only market that the manufacturers wanted to reach was that of the United States.

However, the market has become more global. Many manufacturers sell products in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and other nations around the world. Similarly, products manufactured in other countries are being made available in the United States. This means that the products must meet the requirements of multiple countries. The promulgation of multiple standards has resulted in redundant testing, and, in some cases, the need to manufacture different products as a result of conflicting or mutually exclusive requirements.

UL has recognized the manufacturers’ dilemma and has initiated or supported harmonization efforts in an effort to minimize redundant standards.

UL’s primary focus with respect to harmonization is international harmonization. Typically, international harmonization implies the adoption of an IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) or ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard, with a minimum of national differences. International harmonization could also mean the propagation of a UL standard as a proposed IEC or ISO standard, where none existed previously.

UL works with its STPs and other parties interested to identify IEC standards for possible adoption. Additionally, UL places importance on the need to reduce national differences in existing IEC-based UL standards, by either identifying and removing those national differences that are not critical to the U.S. standards system, or by proposing revisions to the IEC standard, thereby eliminating the need for the national difference in the U.S. version.

The process for developing and publishing an IEC-based UL standard consists of the following basic steps:

• Identification of an IEC standard of interest.
• Determining STP and industry support for the harmonization effort.
• Securing the rights to the IEC standard in the United States. (Note: This particular step can be problematic, as the U.S. Technical Advisory Group administrator must release these rights to UL before UL can publish the text from the IEC standard. This permission is not automatic.)
• Identifying those national differences that must be retained. National differences are typically based on U.S. code requirements, U.S. component requirements, and the U.S. safety system.
• Proposing the IEC standard and the national differences as the UL standard, and continuing with UL’s normal standards development process.

Many of these steps can be conducted with the help of a harmonization committee or working group.

UL also demonstrates commitment to international standardization by actively participating in international standards development. UL continues to focus on its public safety mission by participating in more than 200 international committees, serving in leadership positions in many of those in an effort to actively pursue harmonization of UL standards with international standards. These activities seek to provide an avenue for safe products to the global marketplace and provide global market access for UL’s customers.

In addition to its harmonization efforts internationally, UL also works on a regional basis with other standards developers. UL has co-published standards with ANCE (Mexico’s Asociación Nacional de Normalización y Certificación del Sector Eléctrico), CSA (the Canadian Standards Association), UL Canada, and other standards developers in the United States, including ISA (The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society). UL remains open to new harmonization opportunities in an effort to combine standards resources and reduce standards redundancy.

Electronic Standards Development

UL’s standards development system has progressed from a set of requirements developed in-house for a domestic audience to a dynamic process that relies on input from a diversified global audience. UL’s current system for processing standards proposals and revisions is paper-based, and very costly to all participants in terms of time and resources spent.

Therefore, UL has been actively developing an online collaborative system to be used by everyone involved in the development of UL standards. The Collaborative Standards Development System (CSDS) will provide for electronic publication, review, and comment resolution. The standards-development process will be even more open than UL’s current system, providing for access globally 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The pending implementation of CSDS will basically put UL’s standards development process on the Internet. This system will make it easier for anyone who is interested in participating in the standards development process to do so no matter where they are located. It will allow for more international and consumer participation where travel costs have been prohibitive as well as provide a cost savings for current participants in the standards development process. In addition, the implementation of CSDS should dramatically reduce the staff time required to administer the process.

Basic concepts of CSDS include:

• All requests to change a standard are processed online;
• All balloting is conducted online;
• All commenting and comment resolution occurs online;
• Meeting information, including announcements, agendas and reports, are processed online;
• E-mail notifications are sent to appropriate recipients each time a new document is posted; and
• Any group associated with UL standards development can use the collaboration process to collaborate on any standards document, including a new standard, a piece of a standard, a meeting agenda or report, a proposal, a presentation, etc.
UL anticipates announcing the implementation of the CSDS system by mid-2004. The CSDS development and implementation represents one way that UL is taking advantage of technology to simplify and improve upon the UL standards development process.

UL Standards – A Century of Safety Standards

Millions of products and their components have been tested to UL safety standards, which increase user confidence in the UL Mark on a product and provides a safer environment. Safety standards remain a key ingredient in the U.S. safety system and, increasingly, the safety system of the world. UL looks forward to the next 100 years of excellence in safety standards development. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Sonya Bird is a senior staff engineer in UL’s global standards department and is primarily responsible for coordinating UL’s harmonization efforts. She has been with UL for 14 years, initially assisting with development and maintenance of UL safety standards, and then overseeing the harmonization efforts.

Sarah Brooks is the associate managing engineer for the UL standards operation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. She has been with UL for 15 years in safety standards development and maintenance.

Deborah Prince is a senior staff engineer in UL’s global standards department. She has been with UL for eight years, most recently helping to develop and implement UL’s STP process of standards development.

100 Years of Excellence in Safety Standards Development

As a key part of Underwriters Laboratories Inc.’s continuing commitment to public safety, UL has been in the business of developing standards for safety for the past 100 years. UL published its first standard, covering tin-clad fire doors, in 1903, and since then has continued to devote resources to this important safety work. UL now has more than 880 standards in print, covering a variety of products, including:

• UL 101, which covers leakage current for appliances. This standard was published in 1970 and was a cooperative effort with an American National Standards Institute committee and represented the culmination of extensive UL research on leakage current.

• UL 544, a landmark standard on medical equipment published in 1972.

• UL 1459, which covers telephone equipment, published in 1985. This was UL’s 500th standard and was the first separate standard for telephone equipment.

• UL 1950, which covers information technology equipment, published in 1989. UL had previously published information technology equipment standards, but this particular standard was significant in that it was the first UL standard to be based on an international standard.

• The UL 248 series, which covers fuses, published in 2000. The UL 248 series of standards are the first trinational (North American) standards in this area, co-published by UL, the Canadian Standards Association, and Mexico’s Asociación Nacional de Normalización y Certificación del Sector Eléctrico.

UL is continuing its safety standards development as new technology drives the need for new standards such as in robotic lawnmowers and fuel cell technology.