UL / Safety Approvals

By Ethan Ace, Published on Mar 13, 2012

If your surveillance equipment is not UL listed, it can be ripped out. Often this feels completely random (as discussed in a member's exchange [link no longer available]). Understanding UL listings can avoid these issues and their related high costs. In this note, we overview UL certification, global alternatives, products affected, installation issues and how to deal with being non-compliant.

Overview of Certification

We focus mostly on UL certification and in North America, though we provide some observations globally. We recommend checking in your home region as regulations can vary.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) [link no longer available] performs safety testing and certification (listing), assuring that products meet applicable codes. Surveillance products fall under the umbrella of electrical testing. Listing in this case means that the product is compliant with the American National Electrical Code (NEC), and is therefore regarded as "safe", i.e., not prone to electrical faults or failures which may cause damage to equipment, facilities, or people.

Aside from UL, there are several alternate testing options available in the United States, certified by OSHA to the same standards as UL. The two most common are the Canadian Standards Assocation and Intertek, formerly known as ETL. Many products bear the marks of these testing organizations, in addition to UL. 

In Europe, the CE (Eurorpean Conformity) placed on products which are sold in the European Union. In order to bear the CE mark, products must undergo testing to various standards. Unlike UL, CSA, or ETL, testing and the mark are two separate items, with third partires performing tests. Intertek is valid in a number of other countries, as they are an international organization with multiple offices around the world. Other organizations, such as SGS and Tüv also maintain international presence, though are not well-known in North America.

Products Affected

Technically speaking, cameras and other low-voltage devices do not require UL listing, as they fall under the limited power source (LPS) category in the NEC. Products in this category do not require listing themselves. Instead, the power source, whether it be a low-voltage supply, midspan, or PoE switch, is to be listed. In practice, however, inspectors often do not follow this, requiring the UL mark other products, as well.

In the surveillance industry, UL listing varies. Many mainstream brands are UL listed. However, it may not apply to every camera in their portfolio, with some lower-cost or SMB/SOHO product being unlisted. Others have only listed the current generations of their equipment. Finally, many lower-cost brands are completely unlisted, limiting their use in some jurisdictions. Users should be aware of these variances when selecting product, and make no assumptions.

Listing can generally be found on data sheets, normally in an "approvals" section, though not always. Sometimes it is found only in installation manuals, and other times users must contact the company to get listing information. All these variables make UL compliance a tedious process.

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Certifications Vary

While 'UL Certification' implies electrical safety, the actual standard number it satisfies varies. For surveillance gear, there are two common certification standards that address different safety aspects:

  • UL Standard 60950: Is the most common for cameras, and applies to low voltage safety (ie: non combustibility)
  • UL Standard 2043: Applies when plenum mounting low voltage equipment

Other certifications may apply based on local certification requirements, and 'UL Certification' should not be considered just a general requirement.

Effect on Installations

Whether the UL mark is required on all electrical parts in an installation varies tremendously, depending on the municipality, and even between different inspectors. We have seen various requirements for listing, in different municipalities:

  • No UL listing required: Some municipalities are extremely lenient, never checking any product for UL certification. 
  • Ceiling-mounted products: One of the most arbitrary requirements we have seen is that all ceiling-mounted equipment must be listed, but no other parts of the system were checked. 
  • High-voltage only: In other cases, only high-voltage products require UL listing. This means that electricians are required to comply, but low-voltage security equipment is exempt. 
  • Strict, 100% listing: In the most extreme cases, the building inspector will require every last part of an installation to bear the UL mark, whether it be servers, cameras, cable, or any other components. 

These variations, and others, are why we suggest users should check with their AHJ before installation. In some cases, bids and RFPs may also provide requirements for UL certification, taking the guesswork out of the process.

Dealing with Non-Compliant Product

Since the level of compliance required may vary significantly, it is recommended that users check requirements with the authority having jurisdiction before installation takes place, or even before furnishing estimates. 

If unlisted products are being used, but the inspector requires certification, users have two options:

  1. Replace the non-compliant product with compliant. This is often the simplest way to gain compliance. The major downside is, of course, that product must be removed and replaced, incurring additional material, shipping, and labor costs.
  2. Contract UL to provide a one-time certification of the system of the whole. In this case, a UL engineer visits the site and performs testing of the system in place. While this may alleviate listing issues, it is extremely expensive, commonly in the $10,000+ range for even small installations. It is therefore considered a last resort.

User Experiences

Members shared some of experiences [link no longer available] with UL compliance:

  • "I have had several projects in these states where we have had to rip out equipment at the last minute just because it didn't have a UL label. We have also had to have equipment "field labeled", a process where engineers from a testing laboratory come to the site, inspect the product after it is installed, and issue a one-off label. A very expensive process, but sometimes your only choice if you need to use a specialized or imported product that doesn't have a UL label."
  • "We have been "caught" by an inspector who insisted on UL on the canera regardless of the fact that the power supply had a label. Yes it was unreasonable for the inspector to take that position but there it is. Needless to say that going back to change out the cameras was very costly for us. We will only look at UL listed products now."
  • "As several here have found, if there's even a chance an inspector will insist on it, it's better to just go for it in the first place, rather than have to swap everything else afterward. Here's a little secret I've discovered for dealing with inspectors (and this applies to all trades): most of the time, when they make what seem to be "unreasonable" demands, it's because they want to exert their influence and control; they want you to recognize that they have the final word, and because of this, no amount of arguing or convincing will sway them. The trick, though, is to ask them BEFOREHAND what they want to see. Before you even start, that's when you ask the inspector who will be checking your work, "How would you like to see this and this done? Do you require UL listing on the cameras? Do you require a ground on the power supply? Do you require cable be strapped up every 6 inches? Do you require FT6?" and so on. 9 times out of 10, as long as it's not something that's specifically written in code, they'll just defer to your judgement - things like whether or not the cameras are UL listed don't REALLY matter to them, what matters is that you bow to their will. If you do that BEFORE you start, you'll have a lot fewer problems with them later."
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