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I understand that unless you fall into some specific product categories that are exempt from FCC regulations, electronic products sold in the US are legally required to meet FCC EMC limits. However, there has been a lot of debate recently with some colleagues about what, if any, testing at a NRTL to safety standards is required for the US.

My understanding is that safety requirements are driven by OSHA in the US. However, my understanding is that they really only have the power to "recommend" and not really any legal authority. I've also heard it be said that local counties / cities / states may require adherence to safety standards, but I've never heard of this before other than standard electric code type stuff.

Having recently received proposals from various regulatory agencies for European approval of a product, all of which suggested different standards to test to, sometimes not even having internal agreement about what we should test to, I'm thoroughly convinced that for anything but very established product categories no one has any clue about this stuff. If you have a novel product, forget about it... And now that functional safety seems to be becoming a bigger concern things seem to be getting even worse.

I'll try to stop myself from going off on a rant about how overambitious governments and regulatory agencies are destroying innovation and causing massive inefficiency in product development, but do any safety / legal experts here know if, for the USA, there is any "legal" requirement to worry about anything other FCC for consumer electronic products (e.g. not medical or anything special like that). Does OSHA have any legal authority?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It really depends on the product and what the competition is doing. We sell a lot of products that are not UL or CE marked whatsoever, and have others that are. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Young Jan 11 '14 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It's about providing a safe workplace. It has nothing to do with preventing your neighbor's appliances from interfering with your television. \$\endgroup\$ – Pete Becker Jan 11 '14 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pete - FCC drives EMC compliance, OSHA drives safety compliance. FCC has legal authority, the question is, does OSHA? OSHA, for example, will recommend work place electronic products be "listed" by UL, ETL, or similar. To achieve this listing, safety standards exist that address things like, shock and temperature hazards for specific product categories. Usually very similar to CE safety standards used for sale in the EU. A big difference is you can self certify for CE, you must pay UL or ETL, etc., to prove your product meets the standards to be "listed". \$\endgroup\$ – bt2 Jan 11 '14 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ If your product does not "touch" any lethal voltages (eg: you're using only batteries and/or low-voltage external AC/DC adapters), then you don't need to worry about electrical safety standards, and you don't need any related compliance approvals. For smaller runs, that's the only cost-effective solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Laszlo Valko Jan 11 '14 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Laszlo, let's say the product touches AC mains, if anything to recharge the batteries, what legally requires me to then need to worry about electrical safety standards? Does the NEC legally require anything plugged into an outlet in the US be listed by a NRTL or something? What is driving the legal requirement, if any? That is really what I'm trying to figure out. \$\endgroup\$ – bt2 Jan 11 '14 at 16:59
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To answer your question vaguely: no, there is no one set of golden rules which the U.S. follows as a whole when it comes to electrical matters.

It's the National Electrical Code which makes mention of 'listed' or 'labelled' devices, which is where the NRTLs come into play (UL, CSA, etc.). OSHA approves the NRTLs. The requirements will vary a bit from state to state depending on which code (if any) has been adopted.

Here's a map of the USA showing which states have adopted which versions of the NEC:

enter image description here

There are a few states which haven't adopted any version of the NEC, but have local jurisdictions (counties or cities) which have either adopted the NEC or some 'equivalent' laws.

That being said, I don't agree with your bashing of safety certifications. I personally will never plug an unlisted device into any outlet in my home. I've disassembled some of these 'cheap' gadgets with only China Export marks (meant to look like the European CE mark) or with counterfeit UL marks, and am stunned by just how unsafe these things can be. No creepage/clearance, insufficient wire gauge, damaged wire insulation, improper/no earthing, unconnected earth wires, inadequate fuses, the list goes on and on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, but does the NEC drive safety requirements for most consumer electronics? I thought they just drove requirements for circuit breakers and such... \$\endgroup\$ – bt2 Jan 12 '14 at 4:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find good engineers at good companies drive safety. As you mention, fake labels are rampant and most non EEs can't tell the difference. Safety agencies can add months to project development and do little to add safety. A good company will engineer safe products either way, bad ones will use fake stickers. This is standard practice. More and more functional safety is being pushed into SW and such, and all the agencies are looking at is clearances, fuse ratings, etc., so even approved products can be horribly un-safe. The label, therefore, has little value in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – bt2 Jan 12 '14 at 4:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find that good engineers often overlook safety when pushed to meet cost/time/schedule constraints, and an independent eye is essential to ensure product safety. I also disagree that 'approved products can be horribly un-safe'. Certification ensures that a product, if installed and used correctly, will not pose a safety hazard to a user if something beyond their control goes wrong. There's no such thing as idiot-proofing a product such that misuse/abuse doesn't result in Darwinism. (Since I deal with products into the kilowatt range and with high DC voltages, I'm of course biased). \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Lawrence Jan 13 '14 at 13:27
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I found a really good thread on LinkedIn that answers this, including responses from an OSHA employee, as well as UL and Intertek employees.

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Mandatory-NRTL-approval-in-US-1899348.S.195516492

Apparently, OSHA mandates pretty much every electric product used in the workplace be tested and listed by a NRTL. However, the legal burden is on the purchaser (workplace) not on the manufacturer. So... technically, you can legally build products in this case, but no one can buy it for workplace environments... See comments by Kevin Robinson Electrical Engineer/Auditor OSHA

On the consumer (not workplace) side, there are some local (state, county, city) electrical code requirements for all electrical devices to be tested and listed by a NRTL. See the list in the thread by Jeffrey Fecteau Senior Regulatory Engineer at Underwriters Laboratories

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None. But a good idea to get some if you have a product that someone could hurt themselves with, swallow, or start a fire, etc. As mentioned by @madmanguruman there is a lot of stuff out there with the China Export that is meant to look like CE. I had a couple hundred 5V PSU's help by US customs 3 years ago when we had a substitution for t wall wart. They had all the logos and didn't even have a fuse inside.

But for the U.S., UL is a private lab and entirely optional. FCC applies to the finished product. If you are selling a component, like a processor board, that is intended to be inside something else, then not your problem (though your customers will appreciate easy passing). RoHS is not required in most places - yet. And some categories are exempt.

If it plugs into the wall (mains) directly or controls mains power, there are electrical codes for connectors and wiring that are basically the same as an outlet box or extension cord.

Anything from places like Sparkfun and Adafruit have no requirements with the exception perhaps of the soldering stations they sell. However they are wide open to attack by any ambulance chaser who hears of a child swallowing a tiny PCB with a coin cell on it. If you want to sell low voltage devices internationally, get an RoHS certification. If you want to sell consumer products that use household or industrial power, go the full route plus, like people making anything these days, incorporate and get liability insurance.

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