Conforming to Local Safety Requirements
There are three levels of conformity to local safety standards:
Safety agency approvals
Products are submitted to the national agency for testing and approval.
In general, this option is taken by manufacturers of home appliances and other devices subject to mandatory testing and approval. Other manufacturers may choose to travel the agency approval route because it is advantageous for competitive reasons or because they sell to government agencies who specify approvals as part of the specifications in their requests for proposals. They may also choose to gain national agency approvals as part of a strategy to minimize their product liability exposure.
Conformance but no approvals
Products are designed to conform to all agency requirements but are not submitted for testing (except for RFI testing which is mandatory for most electrical devices in Europe).
This option is now the lowest level of conformity that is permitted in the EU. Provided that detailed rules have been followed, electrical and electronic equipment can be self-certified and carry the CE Marking. The CE Marking simply allows importation of the equipment into the EU.
The rules that control the application of the CE Marking to equipment will require the designation of an European Union based individual or business who will take responsibility for product liability claims and findings by national test agencies that products in the market do not satisfy European safety standards.
This option is taken by manufacturers of products that are not currently subject to mandatory testing but who want to actively sell products in the EU and want to be ready if agency testing and approval becomes desirable.
“User friendly” only
Products are designed to be user friendly in that the appropriate power plug is installed and the unit is designed and built to operate at local power mains voltages and frequencies.
This is the lowest level of conformity to international standards which offers any competitive advantage and it applies only in a rapidly diminishing number of developing countries. However, in today’s very competitive markets, it is very difficult to imagine successfully selling any product that cannot be simply unpacked, plugged in and turned on. The days of shipping products that the purchaser has to rebuild prior to use are gone. (Remember that in some countries, all electrical and electronic products must be tested for conformity to RFI regulations prior to sale. Failure to do so is a violation of the law.)
Designing for compliance with international product safety requirements begins with an understanding of where the standards originate and who certifies that your product meets a standard.
The development of a unified market in the EU has resulted in the elimination of most national deviations to European standards. Not everything is uniform throughout the EU however. There are five different Class I grounded plugs in common use in Europe. Both Switzerland and Italy have both 10A and 16A variations of their plug. Denmark’s standard provides for variations for use with medical and sensitive computer equipment. Nonetheless, the overall trend has been towards uniform electrical standards in Europe and even the acceptance of test results between national agencies in some cases. It has become easier to design one product that satisfies all of the European test authorities.
The result in these developments is that more equipment is now produced and then tested by national test agencies than was the case a decade ago. Customers now expect that most products will carry an appropriate agency test mark or at minimum in Europe the CE Marking. Testing and approval marks are less and less an option for equipment manufacturers who want to sell their products in Europe.