Tuesday, September 11, 2012

National Electrical Code Compliance and YOU!

- Mike Prongue
My dear wife, a former fire inspector and fire fighter once attempted to share “sage advice” with me regarding fire codes with the statement “behind every fire code is a tragedy”. Government regulation, regardless of an individual’s political opinion, has at its core the intention to help further and validate an industry and more importantly, in the case of safety regulation - to save lives.

The Electronic Message Center (EMC) industry, Digital Sign Industry, is not exempt from this regulation and most business owners familiar with these requirement look toward the National Electrical Code (NEC) particularly Section 600, for guidance and conformance. Like any regulation there are ambiguities regarding the NEC but EMCs are required to be inspected to NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory) standards. That is clear.

In the early development of the NEC, the term UL, for Underwriters Laboratory, was used in lieu of today’s reference of  "NRTL". Many UL equivalent organizations have come to the forefront since OSHA changed its terminology to reflect it’s choice of “NRTL” in 1988, a few examples are: MET, CSA, NSF, TUV, ETL (Intertek) and others.

Regardless of the NRTL chosen to inspect and approve the EMC at the factory, this inspection has to occur and the inspection is to the same standards regardless of the NRTL used.

When a code inspector signs off on an installation, a NRTL certification listing label number is the permission required for him to not open up the display and inspect the components contained therein.  Without this certification listing the local code enforcement body can ask that the EMC be removed.  Some sign companies lean heavily on the NRTL certification of the power supplies alone, to convince the inspector that the EMC conforms to the NEC. This is bypassing the intent of the NEC and opens the sign company up to liability if damage, injury or death were to occur as a result of a faulty EMC product.

In addition to false claims by sign companies engaged in the actual installation, many overseas manufacturers are quite liberal with use of the NRTL certification label. Displaying a UL certification label (for example) on a website could cause the reader to think the total EMC is UL certified rather than just subcomponents such as a power supply. This is not the same as the completed, total EMC assembly having a UL certification. The same non-compliance penalty exists regarding removing the EMC from the structure after installation due to non-compliance of the certification requirement.

Many documented issues exist regarding EMCs produced offshore and their claim to be NRTL approved- ETL, MET or others.  If it does not have a NRTL certification listing label number issued by the manufacturer, the EMC project should be suspect. If it does have a listing label number and the sign dealer wants to be sure it is legitimate, every NRTL has a toll-free line to validate the certificate.  Many offshore produced EMC units have the claim to be NRTL certified but investigation of this claim will prove that only subcomponents have been inspected to NEC standards.

Also, with regards to offshore produced EMCs, this writer has been told by many company representatives that the EMC model submitted for NRTL inspection bears little resemblance to the EMC models eventually delivered to the USA. The components offered for inspection are top-grade, the electrical connections and wiring are to standard, and installation has been completed with meticulous detail. This sets up a NRTL quandary similar to the magician’s trick of “three cups and a pea”. What cup is the NRTL certification under?

It’s the responsibility of the sign dealer to make sure their product meets the standards of the National Electrical Code.  You get what YOU inspect.

**Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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