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June 11, 2024

Introduction to Standards: What Is a Standard? And Why Do They Matter?

Learn what UL standards are, how they are developed, why they are important, and other answers to common questions in this short guide.

What is a UL standard?

Family Charging VehicleA UL standard is a published set of best practices for manufacturing and testing the safety, security, and sustainability of a product or system, developed and voted on by experts across industries and interests. When a product conforms to a UL standard, the standard ensures quality and consistency in its materials, construction, manufacture, testing, installation, performance, and use.

Many products and systems are designed and built according to UL standards. In fact, the average U.S. household has 125 products that conform to UL standards, from kitchen appliances to lawn tools and electric vehicles to solar panels. Learn more.

How are UL standards developed? 

UL standards documents are developed through a consensus-based process involving experts from the stakeholder community. These groups of experts are called technical committees. UL Standards & Engagement convenes technical committees composed of experts from manufacturing, government, academia, nonprofits, and other relevant groups to develop, establish, and maintain standards. Technical committee members review proposals for new or revised standards and work together to achieve consensus through balloting in a fair and transparent process. Learn more.

What does UL stand for?

Fire Door test
Hose stream test from the UL 10 series of standards for fire doors, 1915 (top) and present day (bottom)

UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, which was the original name of our organization, founded in 1894. Throughout the 20th century and beyond, Underwriters Laboratories helped to advance innovation through safety science research, standards development, and product safety testing.

In 2012, UL created a new entity, UL LLC, to carry out product testing and certification, and in 2022, UL launched three independent organizations to each work exclusively on one of the three focus areas mentioned above. UL Research Institutes conducts independent research into ongoing and emerging human safety risks, UL Standards & Engagement develops safety standards that impact public safety around the world, and UL Solutions delivers testing, inspection, and certification services that support product innovation and business growth.

Are standards mandatory and legally binding?

Standards are voluntary but can become mandatory and legally binding if referenced in adopted code, written into law, or required by a government agency like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Several UL standards have become mandatory. For example, UL 325, our standard for automatic garage doors, which includes requirements for an inherent reversal system and either an electric eye or edge sensor to protect people and pets from entrapment under a closing door. This standard is referenced in the International Building Code, the International Residential Code, the International Fire Code, the National Electrical Code, and the Canadian Electrical Code. It has also been required by CPSC Federal Law (16 CFR Part 1211) since 1991.

In 2016, UL 2272, the Standard for Electrical Systems for Personal E-Mobility Devices, became mandatory when the CPSC announced that it would recall any self-balancing scooters that did not comply with the standard. The agency noted in its announcement that units that do not meet the standard pose an unreasonable risk of fire to consumers.

And in 2023, UL 2272 was written into law in New York City, along with UL 2849, the Standard for Electrical Systems for e-Bikes, and UL 2271, the Standard for Batteries for Use In Light Electric Vehicle Applications. Under the law, any micromobility devices sold, distributed, leased, or rented in NYC must be certified to the applicable standards.

Why are standards important?

Brother and sister watching a video on a phoneStandards are important because they provide a safe foundation for innovation, helping to address and mitigate risks of injury while guiding the safety, performance, and sustainability of new and evolving technologies. 

Standards provide consumers with access to safe products, and assurance that products are designed and constructed according to rigorous safety requirements. When a product conforms to a UL standard, buyers are assured that it has been designed and tested to withstand demanding, normal-use conditions, without presenting a risk of danger or injury. 

In addition, some standards help ensure the interoperability of many products and systems. For example, standards require electrical outlets to be sized consistently to accommodate the plug type(s) used in a particular country or region. Learn more.