Third-Party Safety Testing
Is third-party safety testing really necessary for all lighting products in all circumstances?
I have bought many types of domestic and international lighting fixtures over the years and I’ve noticed that not all have a UL or ETL listing label. I own a small custom manufacturing company and have made many custom lighting components for customers, and I’m thinking about developing a line of light fixtures with one of my designers. I know a listing mark is important because it shows it has been tested to protect the consumer and myself. Do all lighting fixtures carry a listing, even one-of-a-kind custom fixtures? Do lighting stores sell fixtures without a listing mark? (Do they even check?) Also, don’t tell anyone, but I read your column first!

First off, I am telling everyone that you read my column first. I will post it on my Facebook account, along with an anonymous photograph which I will claim to be you. Now back to your question — you’re absolutely right about fixtures floating around without labels. UL and ETL are American entities; there is also CSA in Canada, which is not Cub Scouts of America but the Canadian Standards Assn. These testing companies have not been around forever. There are many vintage fixtures for sale, installed in homes and businesses, which have no label. 

You certainly can import fixtures from other countries that have not been tested, but most licensed electrical contractors are hesitant to install them and building inspectors — as a rule — do not allow them to be used. It comes down to liability. Who would be responsible if an unlisted fixture were the cause of a fire? Of course, this does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that fixtures from Europe and elsewhere will automatically burst into flames when installed.

Manufacturers in other countries tend to test their fixtures in-house because it is simply bad for business if they do happen to self-ignite. Going through the UL listing process can be costly, so non-U.S.-based companies have to be judicious about which fixtures they select to introduce to the American market. This is the reason I’ve stopped going to the big European lighting shows because I see so much wonderful stuff that unfortunately will never make it to the our American shores — except for those that I have smuggled in inside my extremely large carry-on.

Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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