Have you ever looked at the back of a power brick and noticed a slew of markings that you can’t understand? They probably seem very familiar to you because you recognize them labeled on many of your devices. If they are this common, they must be important, right?
Yes, in fact, many of them are mandatory. These markings are there to protect you, the community, and the environment from all kinds of hazards ranging from electromagnetic incompatibilities to poisonous chemicals.
To help you understand what these labels mean, below are seven product labels commonly used in electric appliances and electronic devices.
1. European Conformity (CE)
The Conformitè Europëenne or European Conformity (CE) mark is a label found in just about any electronic and electrical product in the market. However, despite what many may think, the CE mark is not a certification, nor does it ensure a product’s quality or safety.
The CE mark is simply required by the European Union Committee for manufacturers to show conformity if they want their product to enter the European market. Their conformity indicates that the manufacturers have assessed and tested their products and found them safe and not hazardous to the community and the environment.
The CE mark is self-declared, which means that manufacturers aren’t monitored or checked if they go through testing and assessing their products. It is ultimately up to the manufacturer to declare their products safe and non-hazardous.
Even so, products with the CE marking do offer some protection. For example, in an event where a CE-marked product causes harm to a person, the community, or the environment, governing bodies or any affected will have the right to sue the manufacturers if they fail to provide proof of their assessments or testing of their products.
2. Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
Products labeled with the UL mark indicate that the item was tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories. Underwriters Laboratories is one of the organizations approved by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to test and approve various products from manufacturers. Products circulating the US market must be tested by one of the approved OSHA testing organizations like UL.
A product with the UL mark can be assumed as safe and durable in areas where it was tested for. Underwriters Laboratories offer testing and assessments for chemical, microbiological, physical, sensory, materials, and product packaging.
A UL mark can often be seen on various products such as electrical supplies, electronic devices, building supplies, industrial control equipment, plastics, networking devices, wires, and cables.
3. Canada Standards Association (CSA)
The CSA a mark is another product safety label primarily concerned with electrical and electromagnetic compatibility.
CSA is an OSHA-approved organization where manufacturers can get their products certified. Manufacturers are not required to place a CSA mark on their products. Still, they need the certification for their products to circulate on the market.
4. Restriction of Hazardous Substance Directive (RoHS)
This label ensures that a product is safe from various hazardous substances such as Lead, Mercury, Cadmium Hexavalent Chromium, Polybrominated Biphenyl (PBB), Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE), and five other harmful substances. Exceptions to this directive are essential products that cannot be manufactured without using the listed substances, including batteries, medical devices, and specified testing equipment.
The RoHS directive primarily aims at electrical and electronic products such as household appliances, networking devices, lighting and equipment, medical devices, and electronic devices.
With no standardized logo for RoHS, manufacturers have different ways of indicating their compliance with RoHS. You can identify RoHS compliant products through various indications and marking such as green leaves, check marks, “PB-Free,” and “RoHS compliant” markings.
5. Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
If the RoHS directive aims to limit the use of hazardous materials in electrical and electronic products, the WEEE directive aims to regulate the proper disposal and recycling of such products.
Products with the “Wheelie Bin” (a crossed-out garbage bin logo) indicate that a product complies with the WEEE directive. WEEE compliance would indicate that a producer/manufacturer is practicing and offering proper electrical and electronic waste management to the end-users. Producers are also tasked with annual reporting on their proper waste disposal effort. Consumers may also help with this directive by reusing products marked with the crossed-out garbage bin.
WEEE compliance is mandatory in most international markets. And is the reason almost every electronic and electrical product sold in the market has its mark alongside CE, UL, or CSA.
6. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
The FCC mark is a mandatory label enforced by the Federal Communications Commission. Products with the FCC mark do not necessarily mean a product is safe or durable. It only means that a product has regulated limits of ionizing radiation, ensuring safety, but only In the aspect of radiation. Other parts of the product might still be hazardous.
The FCC mark needs to be applied to all radio frequency emitting devices, such as mobile phones, IOT devices used in smart homes, Bluetooth devices, and radio telecommunication equipment.
A square within a square symbol means an electrical appliance has been assessed by a certified PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) engineer/personnel. Electrical appliances that bear this logo mean that the item has been double insulated and does not require a ground connection.
So, What’s Stopping Manufacturers From Faking Product Labels?
Many of these labels take time and money before manufacturers can stamp them on their products. Now, this isn’t a problem for bigger manufacturers/producers, but how about the small ones? What prevents them from directly printing these markings without actually getting certifications?
Well, aside from the risk of litigation, not much.
The good thing is that the risk-to-reward ratio of faking product safety labels isn’t worth it for smaller manufacturers. They can still access large markets by using self-certifying labels like CE. It is also easier for them just skip labels as many of them are not mandatory. Though there will indeed be faked labels in the electronic and electrical market, as long as you buy from a reputable brand, you should be fine.
Be a Smart Shopper: Choose Labeled Products
Now that you know the most common labels used in electronic and electrical appliances, hopefully, you will take the time to look for these marks. Entire committees have been created to test, assess, and enforce standards for manufacturers to follow in an effort to make a secure, safe, and sustainable world. It would be a shame to put all of this effort to waste. So before buying a new device, try choosing the ones with a product safety label.