May 9, 2020 – It would seem strange to many that there are still light fixtures available on the Canadian market that don’t meet Code. That is, they don’t conform with the Canadian National Standard for various product types, listed in part 2 of the Canadian Electrical Code, and verified through third-party accredited certification bodies, such as CSA, UL or Intertek.
This is a problem for homeowners, who, after spending up to hundreds of dollars, find that the fixtures they purchased in good faith are not ones that electricians can install. Electricians will obviously not work with fixtures or any other materials that don’t meet established standards. If they did, they would risk the safety of their customers, their licences, lawsuits and more.
While some stores sell fixtures that don’t meet Code, both in their physical stores and online, David Geldart does feel the big box stores seem to make the effort to sell only those that do. However, Geldart, president at Lumicrest Lighting Solutions in Toronto, which makes its own custom LED lights in addition to those made by other firms, notes that a fair bit of what is available on Amazon is not certified, or just certified with a ‘component’ type mark.
This might be easily be solved, says Geldart, if Amazon required a cUL or cETL listing number for every product. Susie Minton, UL’s senior manager of industry marketing for lighting, believes this would be feasible, as retailers have the ability to closely track all products they offer.
Minton explains that the supply chain for components used in lighting products is deeply rooted in Asia and she, like Geldart, believes many retailers in North America and beyond do request information related to product certifications.
For the North American market, UL certifies products to ‘cUL’ and ‘UL’ safety standards, agreed upon by industry and applying to the Canadian and U.S. markets, respectively. UL writes the safety standards for the US, CSA writes the safety standards for Canada, and the two organizations work together to streamline the certification of products for both markets, but the standards are independent to each country. UL also works with companies on development of their light products in terms of performance requirements such as flicker levels, dimming and colour.
Enforcement across Canada
According to Health Canada, the electrical safety authority for each province and territory is responsible for enforcing electrical product certification and compliance to the Code. In British Columbia, this is Technical Safety BC, which says it is occasionally made aware of unapproved lighting fixtures being sold through online channels.
This usually occurs with homeowners who are not accustomed to looking for certification marks or labels, explains Michael Pilato, the organization’s acting technical leader of Safety Management Approaches. Through public reminders, the organization urges homeowners to use only certified products to keep their homes safe, and publishes updated information bulletins on approved certification marks for electrical products to guide industry members.
Under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, Health Canada also investigates and responds to illegal lights, in that the agency addresses situations where a consumer product may pose a danger to health or safety. In 2019, Health Canada received 919 incident reports involving consumer electrical products that connect directly to an electrical outlet, including 77 related to consumer lighting.
Health Canada refers uncertified products that are not found to be a danger to human health or safety to the applicable provincial and territorial electrical safety authorities for action, and if Health Canada concludes a product is dangerous to human health or safety, it takes its own action.
Under its Consumer Product Safety Program, Health Canada also conducts compliance and enforcement projects for electrical products. Products are chosen because they are deemed to be more likely to not meet health and safety requirements due to observed characteristics.
“Characteristics that would be indicative of likely non-compliance is tailored to product type and can include product materials, labelling quality and visual appearance,” states Health Canada. “In the case of electrical products, this can include lack of certification, when it is required.” The agency adds that “due to this biased nature of sampling” and the fact that sample sizes within these projects are “very small,” project findings “are not intended to reflect overall market compliance unless otherwise stated.”
In a project in 2016-17, 25 seasonal light products were chosen and tested for flammability and electrical/mechanical safety aspects. Three products did not meet ‘strain relief’ requirements and one did not meet flammability standards, resulting in two voluntary recalls, one forced stoppage of sales, and one stoppage of distribution.
Custom light legality
Lumicrest ships its custom-designed LED lights all over North America, and this causes some issues for the company, as certification standards aren’t the same in all jurisdictions. Some of their U.S. customers request, for example, that Lumicrest provide power supply units that go beyond the bounds – in terms of their enclosure, power supply level or other aspects – of what is legal in Ontario. Lumicrest refuses these requests. “The Ontario standards are among the strictest across North America,” explains Geldart, “and so we know that if the light fixture meets them here, it will meet standards everywhere else.”
He notes however that occasionally even in Ontario, he and his staff still encounter inspectors who examine one of their custom LED fixtures and initially question whether it meets CE Code. Lumicrest therefore has to provide further information to these inspectors. “Once in a while,” adds Geldart, “clients have even insisted we get field inspections done by a recognized testing lab before installing the lights even though… the LED lights are running as low voltage units. The remote-mounted drivers do need to meet specific code requirements, however, and we’re very stringent about that.”
If a Lumicrest client does insist on a field inspection, the firm uses QPS, which sends a staff member to the site to check the fixtures and then apply stickers showing satisfaction that the lights are legal and safe.
Like other certifiers, UL does certify custom fixtures and ‘electric art.’ Minton notes that although custom fixture-makers often use various parts in “very unique and beautiful ways,” what might appear to be a complex and unconventional fixture can be quick to certify, because the parts used are standard ones, and often certified by UL. Indeed, UL has a database called Product iQ on its website, which is a repository of all products that have UL certification.
Looking back and forward
In terms of how light product safety certification has evolved, Minton says new technologies have now enabled the creation of ‘interconnected’ lighting systems that are built into architecture, possess aspects related to cybersecurity, and more. “A light can now be a speaker or a sensor, interconnected to other lighting controls or controls for other things in the ‘smart’ home,” she explains. “There are still the basics of power, light engine and the enclosure, but the enclosure must hold everything in place properly and no components can interfere with any other so that they cause any others to operate in a non-normal fashion.”
This said, most of what UL certifies these days is LED lighting. Consumer acceptance for these products was fast and demand has remained strong, but Minton notes that some companies still make decorative lighting that uses incandescent bulbs and there is still a significant amount of fluorescent commercial lighting being produced.
About the author…
Treena Hein is an award-winning Canadian science, technology and industry business trends writer.
This article—along with other great content—appears in the May 2020 edition of Electrical Business Magazine.
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