What they mean and why they are important


Have you ever looked at the back of a power supply and noticed a slew of markings that you can’t figure out? They probably look very familiar to you because you recognize them labeled on many of your devices. If they’re so 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 sorts of hazards ranging from electromagnetic incompatibilities to toxic chemicals.


To help you understand what these labels mean, here are seven product labels commonly used in electrical appliances and electronic devices.

1. European Conformity (CE)

The Conformitè Europëenne or European Conformity (CE) mark is a label found on almost all electronic and electrical products on the market. However, contrary to what many may think, the CE mark is not a certification, nor does it guarantee the quality or safety of a product.

CE marking is simply required by the Committee of the European Union for manufacturers to demonstrate conformity if they want their product to enter the European market. Their compliance indicates that the manufacturers have evaluated and tested their products and found them to be safe and non-hazardous to the community and the environment.

The CE mark is self-declared, which means that manufacturers are not monitored or controlled if they test and evaluate their products. It is ultimately up to the manufacturer to declare their products safe and non-hazardous.

Even so, products bearing the CE mark offer some protection. For example, in an event where a CE marked product causes harm to a person, the community or the environment, the governing bodies or any affected person will have the right to sue the manufacturers if they fail to provide proof of their evaluations or tests of their products.

2. Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

Products bearing the UL mark indicate that the item has been tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories. Underwriters Laboratories is one of the organizations licensed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to test and approve various manufacturers’ products. Products circulating in the US market must be tested by one of the OSHA approved testing organizations such as UL.

A product bearing the UL mark can be considered safe and durable in areas where it has been tested. Underwriters Laboratories offers testing and evaluations for chemical, microbiological, physical, sensory, materials and product packaging.

A UL mark can often be seen on various products such as electrical supplies, electronics, building materials, industrial control equipment, plastics, networking devices, wires and cables.

3. Canadian 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 have their products certified. Manufacturers are not required to affix a CSA mark to their products. Yet they need certification for their products to circulate in the market.

4. Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive

This label guarantees that a product is safe from various hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium cadmium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and five other harmful substances. Exceptions to this directive are essential products that cannot be produced without using the listed substances, including batteries, medical devices and specified test equipment.

The RoHS directive mainly targets electrical and electronic products such as household appliances, networking devices, lighting and equipment, medical devices and electronic devices.

In the absence of a standardized logo for RoHS, manufacturers have different ways of indicating their RoHS compliance. You can identify RoHS compliant products by various indications and markings such as green leaves, check marks, “PB free” and “RoHS compliant” markings.

5. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)

While 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 these products.

Products with the “Wheelie Bin” (a crossed-out wheelie bin logo) indicate that a product complies with the WEEE directive. Compliance with WEEE would indicate that a producer/manufacturer practices and offers appropriate management of electrical and electronic waste to end users. Producers are also responsible for producing an annual report on their waste disposal efforts. Consumers can also contribute to this directive by reusing products marked with the crossed out wheelie bin.

WEEE compliance is mandatory in most international markets. And this is the reason why almost all electronic and electrical products sold in the market have their mark alongside CE, UL or CSA.

6. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The FCC mark is a mandatory label imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. Products bearing the FCC mark do not necessarily mean that a product is safe or durable. It only means that a product has regulated limits of ionizing radiation, ensuring safety, but only from the aspect of radiation. Other parts of the product can still be dangerous.

The FCC mark must be applied to all devices that emit radio frequencies, such as cell phones, IOT devices used in smart homes, Bluetooth devices, and radio telecommunications equipment.

A square within a square symbol means that an electrical device has been evaluated by a certified PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) engineer/personnel. Electrical appliances that carry this logo mean that the item has been double insulated and does not require earthing.

So what stops manufacturers from tampering with product labels?

Many of these labels take time and money before manufacturers can put them on their products. Now, this is not a problem for large manufacturers/producers, but what about small ones? What’s stopping them from directly printing these markings without actually getting any certifications?

Well, apart from the risk of litigation, not much.

The good thing is that the risk-reward ratio of fake product safety labels is not worth it for small manufacturers. They can still access large markets by using self-certifying labels like CE. It’s also easier for them to skip tags because many of them aren’t required. While there are indeed fake labels in the electronics and electrical market, as long as you buy from a reputable brand, you should be fine.

Be a wise buyer: choose labeled products

Now that you know the most common labels used in electronics and electrical devices, we hope you take the time to research these brands. Whole committees have been created to test, evaluate and enforce the standards that manufacturers must follow in order to create a safe, secure and sustainable world. It would be a shame to waste all this effort. So, before buying a new device, try to choose those that have a product safety label.


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