Why UL-Listed Products Are Worth Paying Extra For
China produces millions of "no-name" products that are marketed on Amazon by third-parties. So how do we know that companies like UBeesize and Tessan are selling safe products?
Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories are a big help.
You've probably seen "UL" or "ETL" certification marks before. Those marks belong to Underwriters Laboratories and Intertek Group plc, two standards organizations that have upheld safety practices since the 1800s. These certification marks shouldn't be taken for granted, however.
For many products imported into the U.S., "there are no mandatory safety standards," according to ChinaImportal, an agency specializing in compliance issues.
Remember when hoverboards were catching fire in 2015? Amazon banned all boards that didn't use UL-certified batteries. In fact, almost no hoverboard manufacturers (at that time) met the basic safety standards upheld by organizations like Underwriters Laboratories.
Manufacturers who apply for third-party certifications allow underwriters to audit production facilities and products. This commitment to accountability doesn't come cheaply. Certifying a single product can cost more than $10,000 and some of these compliance costs are passed along to consumers. However, the premium is often justified.
Look at enough Amazon reviews and you’ll see phrases like "melted plastic," “smell smoke” or "caught fire" (with photos to prove these claims). Third-party testing labs exist to minimize these types of risks.
What About “CSA” and Other Safety Marks?
All Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories are equally trustworthy in the eyes of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The U.S. currently recognizes 19 of these laboratories and their corresponding certification marks, including UL, ETL and CSA.
There is no clear evidence to indicate that one lab is better than another, however, two labs have had their status revoked or denied by OSHA within the last 15 years.
Shouldn’t All Products Be Safety Certified?
Only a fraction of consumer products are tested by independent labs. If the U.S. were to mandate that every product carry a safety certification mark, it could result in lower standards (because demand for testing might exceed the supply of testers). Even if these organizations were able to scale their certification services, it would be difficult to monitor and police fraudulently-used marks. Europe knows this pain.
The European Economic Area’s product- and safety-standards are denoted with a "CE" when met. However, each member state is responsible for surveilling the use of the CE mark. That's a not-so-standard standard.
Counterintuitively, letting private companies surveil product safety may result in higher standards overall.
Protect Yourself (When No One Else Can)
No organization, no matter how respected, can protect us from every hazard in life. (For example, cooking fire deaths in the U.S. have increased by 124% over the last decade.) In the end, how we use products is just as important as how we shop for them (and no certification mark can save us from ourselves).