Light-emitting diode (LED) technology has steadily improved over the last few years, paving the way for the more widespread use of LEDs in residential applications. Though there are plenty of solid-state lighting products currently on the market, up until now, our industry has lacked an official set of standards with which to judge the quality, efficacy and, perhaps most important, the safety of those products. As a result, there is a lot of misleading information out there.
“People look at these things, and they assume that somebody has evaluated that particular product with some set of standards, and that isn’t the case today,” says Ken Kempel, Principal Engineer of Lighting at product safety testing and certification organization Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
Without a standard set of guidelines in place, there is no way determine what methods the manufacturer has used to test its LED product and no telling whether the claims on its packaging are even accurate.
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) has set out to remedy the situation, leading the charge in developing a set of sanctioned safety standards for LED lighting products. To begin the long and involved procedure, UL recently published “UL 8750: Outline of Investigation for Light Emitting Diode Light Sources for Use in Lighting Products," a preliminary document that lists certification requirements. After rounds of in-depth product investigation, the requirements will eventually become the UL standards, a process that could take up to three years depending on how much needs to be studied and tested.
According to its Web site, UL will be investigating such LED safety issues as risk of shock, risk of fire and risk of personal injury, which includes various hazards resulting from exposure to blue light and direct viewing. In addition, UL labs will study products’ method of installation, use and required maintenance.
Once in place, UL hopes its standard will demonstrate that LED products are just as safe as other types of lighting and encourage consumers to use the energy-saving technology in their homes.
“If a new technology is introduced into the marketplace and it results in loss of property, loss of life or injury, people are not going to buy it; the technology will suffer a tremendous setback,” Kempel says. “Having a safety standard is going to enhance the public’s view of LED lighting in general and should further enhance the market for LED lighting products.”
In addition to safety testing, other organizations are taking steps to ensure LED products function properly. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) runs quarterly tests of currently available LED products to measure performance and to check the products’ ability to live up to their manufacturers’ claims.
Despite the challenges, safety and performance standards are progressing quite quickly, mirroring the rapid growth of LED technology itself.
“The lighting industry has made great strides toward completing these standards,” Kempel says. “[It’s happening] faster than I think anybody in the lighting industry has seen standards develop because they’ve seen LED technology as a very viable technology and one that is going to be the future of lighting.”