On May 1, 1893, at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a massive crowd gathered in the dark to await the showcase of electric lights. And with a single switch, President Grover Cleveland lit 100,000 incandescent bulbs at once, illuminating the entire fairground and inaugurating both the World’s Fair and the new era of electrification. Behind the scenes, Underwriters Laboratories founder William Henry Merrill, Jr. was working to assess fire risks at the fair as an electrical inspector.
Electricity posed a major fire and electrocution hazard, but through science-based research, Merrill and his team were able to help guide the technology and mitigate these risks. In the 125+ years since, our organization has published more than 500 standards for electrical safety, covering wiring, conduit, outlets, control panels, and more. We’ve been with this technology from the beginning, and we’re continually working to ensure safety as new innovations emerge.
- Electric shock – Shock occurs when an electric current passes through the body. It can be caused by various sources, such as electrostatic discharge, exposed or damaged cables, faulty appliances, and lightning strikes. Depending on the type of current, voltage, and resistance, electrical shock can lead to both fatal and nonfatal injuries. There are more than 30,000 nonfatal shock incidents each year.
- Fire - Home electrical fires account for an estimated average of 46,700 fires each year, resulting in an average of 390 deaths, 1,330 civilian injuries, and $1.5 billion in property damage. Common electrical fire hazards include arcing or overheating of energized equipment and parts, proximity to fuel, and overloaded circuits.
- Arc Flash – Arc flash occurs when a violent flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one point to another. It is commonly caused by conductor-to-conductor contact with an exposed voltage source, such as dust, dropping tools, accidental touching, condensation, material failure, corrosion, and faulty installation.
- RF Exposure – Prolonged proximity exposure to high-power, electromagnetic radio frequency radiation can potentially cause heating of biological tissue, raised body temperature, and tissue damage. Commonly identified sources of high-power RF energy are medical devices, amateur radio equipment, cellular base stations, handheld phones, heating and sealing devices, microwave ovens, radio broadcast antennae, and traffic radar devices. Research is ongoing into the potential long-term biological effects of RF exposure.
How can standards reduce the risks?
UL electrical standards provide requirements for material construction, performance, testing, and installation. These requirements help to ensure that electrical products are capable of transmitting or insulating currents when properly installed, without exposing people to hazards. Additionally, marking requirements in standards help to ensure that electrical products clearly display appropriate warning labels and installation instructions, and that these labels are legible and permanent. Standards are voluntary for manufacturers, but they can be referenced in official building, energy, electrical, or fire codes, whereupon they become required by law.
How you can get involved
Safety standards require input from diverse stakeholders. Our technical committees for electrical standards are comprised of experts from industry, academia, government, manufacturing, and distribution. Learn how you can get involved in our standards development process and apply to join a TC by following the link below:
ULSE has published more than 500 standards for electrical safety.
UL electrical standards provide requirements for material construction, performance, testing, and installation.
ULSE technical committees for electrical standards are comprised of experts from industry, academia, government, manufacturing, and distribution.
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