Ultimate Guide to ETL
What Is ETL?
ETL is a testing laboratory headquartered in London that specializes in benchmark performance testing, electromagnetic compatibility testing and product safety testing for electronics. They maintain 30+ offices and laboratories around the world.
Since its original founding in 1896 by Thomas Edison, ETL has implemented revolutionary effects. ETL formed to ensure customers receive safe products performing based on Edison’s vision of proprietary product, material and component safety and performance tests. Today, ETL sticks to those same basic principles, even as the company has expanded to take on product testing duties around the world.
What Is the Difference Between ETL and UL?
UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, is an American safety certification company. They’re headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, and provide certification, testing, inspection and training services.
Both ETL and UL function as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories, or NRTLs. An NRTL is an independent, non-government laboratory recognized by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) as suitable to test products to applicable safety standards.
The NRTL program functions as part of OSHA’s Directorate of Technical Support, which ensures that products are safe to use in the U.S. workplace. The NRTL program is designed to recognize the capabilities of private organizations to determine if their tests meet OSHA safety standards.
Both the ETL and UL marks demonstrate to clients, consumers and retailers that their product meets the bearing requirements for safety standards in their specific product.
Since both UL and ETL test to the same OSHA standards, there is no difference between ETL and UL — except for the marks they leave after testing.
What Is the Difference Between ETL and NSF?
NSF International, formerly the National Sanitation Foundation, is another major American safety certification company. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, NSF International provides certification and other risk management services for the public health and safety environment.
Much like ETL and UL, NSF International is also an NRTL. However, where ETL and UL generally focus on electrical products, industrial equipment, building materials and the like, the products that would generally receive the NSF mark are usually products that would otherwise impact or affect the consumer’s public health. Examples of products that would receive the NSF Mark include:
- Pool and spa products
- Dietary or sports supplements
- Faucets and plumbing
- Cosmetics and personal care products
NSF International also does testing for various food and water-related products, such as gluten-free foods and products, non-GMO products, organic products, and meat, poultry or fish that has been raised without the use of antibiotics.
What Is the ETL Listed Mark?
The ETL Listed mark is a way to show a product has undergone independent testing to meet the published applicable standards. It means the product is in compliance with North American safety standards. Authorities having jurisdiction, also known as AHJs, and code officials accept the ETL Listed mark as proof that a product is compliant with industry standards across the United States and Canada.
AHJs can be anyone from the state fire marshal to the local private fire department and everyone in between. Essentially, they are officials responsible for building code enforcement. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) defines an authority having jurisdiction as “the organization, office, or individual responsible for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.”
Buyers also accept it as a mark of safety on products they’re sourcing, and an increasing number of customers have come to recognize it as a way to tell that the products they’re buying or using have been vetted by the proper certification companies.
Certification for products that have been given the ETL Listed mark is maintained with regular product and site inspection to ensure that the products being manufactured match the one that was originally tested.
Products that can be given the ETL Listed mark include:
- Domestic electrical products
- Building materials
- Medical equipment
- Equipment that may be used in hazardous or explosive environments
- Industrial equipment
- Telephone and communications equipment
Many non-U.S. manufacturers seek to get ETL Listed marks for their products because ETL Listed marks are often required by port authorities or customs agents. It is also extremely difficult for non-U.S. companies to secure vendor channels without an ETL Listed mark since vendors share a legal responsibility with manufacturers to supply safe products for their customers.
An ETL Verified mark with a “U.S.” identifier at the 4 o’clock position means the product has been identified as holding compliance with U.S. safety standards only, as defined by Title 29 CRF. An ETL verified mark with a “C” in the 8 o’clock position has been deemed in compliance with only Canadian product safety standards. Products bearing both a “US” and a “C” are in compliance with both U.S. and Canadian product safety standards.
What Is the ETL Verified Mark?
Much like the ETL Listed mark, the ETL Verified mark indicates a product meets certain specifications, and is a way for manufacturers to differentiate their products in a competitive market. The ETL Verified mark is a symbol manufacturers can use to prove the performance integrity of their products to consumers.
Examples of products that can bear an ETL Verified mark include:
- Cable products
- LED traffic signals/traffic lights
Many manufacturers use independent certification programs, like the ETL Verified mark, to prove their products meet the criteria set by industry associations. Products that meet these criteria are usually published in semi-annual or annual product directories.
Is the ETL Marking Valid and Accepted in Other Countries?
While the ETL Listed and ETL Verified marks are accepted as demonstrations of product compliance in both the United States and Canada, the NRTL that furnishes the ETL markings is often also authorized to furnish the product safety markings necessary for sale and distribution in other countries. Such marks include the CE Mark, common throughout the European Union, the GS Mark, the NOM Mark and the S Mark.
What to Know If You’re Unfamiliar With the ETL Mark
There’s not an easy-to-explain formula for clarifying to clients, customers and retailers what the various ETL markings are and what they mean. A good means of explaining is often tailored from example to example, depending on the client or customer’s background. Some concerns can be relieved by showing clients other products that have an ETL Listed mark.
Some clients may believe only the UL mark represents accurate product compliance, requiring a detailed explanation of requirements for safety testing in products. Inform your clients on the NRTL program and its requirements, allowing them insight on ETL’s Product Safety Certification Program which contains similar testing, listing and follow through actions as UL. The Product Safety Certification Program is also recognized by matching agencies and governing bodies.
Perhaps the most important thing to stress to clients and customers with regard to the ETL marks is that testing laboratories are working toward making assessments for conformity less rigid, with the end goal set as no longer seeing product testing as another obligation. Instead, they should see it as a progression which adds worth to product development cycles and increases the rate at which the desired market is reached.
What’s the Difference Between the ETL, UL and NSF Marks?
When deciding which mark to get your product certified for, it largely depends on what the product is and what market it’s getting certified for.
ETL Listed and ETL Verified Marks are generally used for domestic electrical products, cable equipment, industrial equipment and telephone/communications equipment. You would get an ETL Listed or ETL Verified mark if you were manufacturing a domestic electronic, cable or telecommunications equipment such as power cords, CAT5 cabling and electrical jacks.
The UL series of marks is based on UL’s own safety standards and can be seen on a variety of appliances, computer equipment and consumer safety equipment. Common items that bear the UL mark include fuses, electrical panel boards, fire extinguishers, carbon dioxide and monoxide detectors, sprinkler systems and, occasionally, personal flotation devices such as life jackets.
The NSF Mark is generally used for products that would impact the consumer from a health and public safety standpoint. Examples of things that would receive the NSF Mark include water filters, plumbing, automotive and repair shops, appliances and home products as well as water treatment supplies and faucets.
Each of these testing marks is administered by laboratories across the US, and abroad in Canada and Europe, so once you decide what products you’re certifying and what markets you need to certify them for, you’ll be more than able to find a testing laboratory that suits your needs.
How Can You Obtain an ETL Certification or Listing?
There are three main ways to obtain an ETL certification or listing:
- A new application
- An ETL listing from a CB report or certificate
- An ETL listing from a file transfer
The steps for a new application for an ETL certification are as follows:
Get a Quote
First, you need to decide if you want your product to be sold in the U.S., in Canada, or in both. You’ll need as much information on the product as you can to get an accurate quote. Typically, you’ll need to supply:
- Product photographs, if available
- Product specifications, such as dimensions or a materials list
- A product description, which must include the intended use
- The product’s target user base — or example, whether the product is domestic or commercial, and whether the product is intended for adults or children
- The details of any pre-approved or pre-certified sub-assemblies, parts or components that may be used in the finished product as presented
- A prototype or regular sample, if available
If you intend to limit your distribution to certain states, such as California or New York, this needs to be communicated as well. Some states have mandatory requirements for certain products that must be tested, such as air filters. If you intend to deliver nationwide, include this in your proposal so your product can be tested for all requirements.
Once you send your application, it will be reviewed and sent to a testing laboratory to conduct the appropriate tests. Once the reviewer has assessed the results, they’ll provide a quote, which will also detail the number of samples you’ll need to provide and what standards are involved.
If there is no standard for the item being tested, they’ll develop a framework based on the nearest applicable standard. The product can then be listed against the source standard that the framework was developed from.
Once the quotation is signed off on, they’ll define the testing schedule and move the project on to Step 2.
The Product Information Pack
Step 2 is the Product Information Pack, which is a series of forms issued to you that outlines the process to complete the listing, as well as project milestones. The most important form in the list is EURFC1 – New Applicant Form. The testing lab will provide assistance during the application process.
Supplying the Samples and Testing
Once you’ve submitted the proper samples as detailed in Step 1, the lab can commence the testing process. If the product passes all assessments, they’ll move on to drafting the listing report. If not, they will contact you with their findings and you can pause the assessment at any time to make adjustments.
During the product assessment, you will also receive information on how to schedule inspections for the relevant factory assessments, as needed.
The service center will work with you to complete the appropriate documents, and provide information on product line inspection.
Initial Factory Inspection
Once the product has been looked over and a test report has been drafted, an inspector will come to inspect your manufacturing sites. If the inspection meets quality requirements, a finalized listing report will be drafted.
Final Items for Action
To receive the final authorization for the ETL mark, the following need to be in place:
- Final production line testing is complete
- A factory inspection was completed at each area where the product is being made
- There is a listing report available for the product
- The Certification Agreement has been signed in duplicate, and both copies have been returned for counter-signing
- A facsimile of the ETL mark as it will appear on the product has been submitted for approval
- A Client Information sheet must have been completed and sent back to the ETL-certified NRTL
- A purchase order has been sent to the regional follow-up service center to authorize and initialize the follow-up services as required by the ETL scheme
The ETL-Certified NRTL Formally Issues the Listing Report
The listing report details:
- The agent, the applicant and the product’s site of manufacture
- Describes the product
- Lists any pre-production findings from inspections
- Lists all standards used in the inspection and summarizes the results
- Details any special requirements for unlisted components, as necessary
- Indicates testing requirements for the production line
Authorization to Mark
Once all the above steps have been completed, an authorization to mark is issued. The authorization to mark allows manufacturers to mark their products and packaging with the specific ETL mark they’ve been authorized for. The mark can either be attached by a sticky label or impressed/imprinted directly onto the product packaging or the product itself.
The second way a product can obtain an ETL listing or certification is by getting the listing from certification body’s report or certificate.
The process for this is as follows:
- The applicant approaches the existing certification body and obtains their test report form and certificate, both of which must be no more than three years old.
- The applicant brings the certificate/report to the ETL-certified NRTL as part of their ETL application
- The ETL-certified NRTL reviews both the certificate and the CB report, as well as a sample of the product
- If the report, certificate and product sample are satisfactory, The ETL-certified NRTL will draft a listing report and an authorization to mark
- Once those two items are drafted, the ETL-certified NRTL completes an initial factory audit of all places the product is being produced from
- If the factory inspection is completed successfully, then the listing and authorization to mark are issued for the product in question
Finally, if the product has already been certified or listed by another Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory, that listing can easily be transferred over to ETL. The pre-existing file is used as the basis for awarding the ETL marks needed, and the process is as follows:
- First, the applicant approaches the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory or Certifying Body Testing Laboratory and receives a copy of the test completed and the certification data that was obtained from said test.
- The applicant then brings both the certificate and the report, along with the data, to the NRTL. The documentation is assessed and reviewed to determine if any further testing is required, either locally, nationally or internationally.
- If no further product testing is required, the NRTL completes a factory inspection. Once the factory inspection is passed, the NRTL issues a new listing report, along with an authorization to mark.
The data that needs to be supplied for a file transfer is as follows:
- Complete product specifications, with enough information for the product testers to assess the product on-site
- Complete test reports, including the standards that the product was tested to and what equipment was used to do said testing
Where Can I Get My Products Certified?
If you’re looking to get your products certified or marked to ETL, UL or NSF International standards, the OSHA website maintains a list of NRTLs both across the United States and abroad. Each NRTL on the OSHA site can be searched to narrow down which standards it tests to and what products it can test, enabling you to find the testing lab that’s right for you.
NRTLs across the US include:
- Bay Area Compliance Laboratories (California)
- Curtis-Straus LLC (Massachusetts)
- Intertek Testing Services NA (Illinois)
- MET Laboratories, Inc (Maryland)
- SGS North America (Georgia)
- Southwest Research Institute (Texas)
- TUV Rheinland of North America, Inc (Connecticut)
There are a number of OSHA-recognized NRTLs in Canada, as well, such as:
- CSA Group Testing and Certification Inc (Ontario)
- QAI Laboratories, LTD (British Columbia)
According to the OSHA website, there is also one NRTL outside of the US and Canada, which is TÜV SÜD Product Services GmbH in Munich, Germany. OSHA is constantly maintaining their list of NRTLs and posts guidelines for how to ensure you receive properly-certified equipment from your NRTL.
No matter which NRTL or service standard you end up choosing, you’ll rest peacefully knowing you’re delivering quality independently-certified products to your customers across a wide variety of industries. Between them, the ETL, UL and NSF marks test or certify nearly every kind of product on the market, so you’re bound to find a mark, certification or testing standard that fits the products you’re selling.