PBC Today interviewed Chris Miles, the business director of UL’s Built Environment Group, about the importance of third-party certification
Q) Why is third-party certification so important for products, systems and installation?
UL believes that mandatory third-party certification of fire safety products should be a minimum, along with the publicly accessible listing of these products and systems, including their scope of application.
Product certification signifies a manufacturer’s commitment to go above minimum market requirements, differentiate its products in the market and support export to markets where third-party certification is mandatory.
Third-party certification of products and systems is very important because changes within production processes are quite common over time. Certification is not lifelong—it is dependent upon regular checks and audits by independent experts.
Third-party certification means that a U.K.AS accredited independent organisation has, for example, reviewed the manufacturing process of a product and independently determined that the final product complies with specific standards for safety, quality or performance. This review typically includes comprehensive formulation and material reviews, testing and facility inspections. Most certified products bear the certifier’s mark on their packaging to help consumers and other buyers make educated purchasing decisions.
Product certification schemes will also typically have continued annual audits of the factory of production to ensure the product remains the same as that which was tested. It often includes sample testing requirements to ensure the product’s performance remains the same.
Q) What makes the services UL offers different from other providers?
Acquiring UL certification allows manufacturers and their customers to have confidence in the quality and increased levels of safety for key building products and systems, which leads to clear benefits for end-users.
For manufacturers outside the U.K. that are looking to break into the U.K. market, the UL certification offers an opportunity to compete with local manufacturers. It helps them align with local performance and business expectations. Indeed, UL test and certification facilities allow its customers to strengthen their market position, which is especially important for overseas companies seeking a competitive advantage to help them penetrate the U.K. market successfully.
Once a company achieves certification, it will have access to the project and tender lists to show that its products and procedures have been independently assessed for performance and quality by a third party. Certification also highlights their dedication to excellence and performance, which is always valuable in a competitive market sector.
Third-party certification gives surety of compliance, provides stakeholder assurance (including for building users and residents), empowers continual system improvements and assures diligence and best practice to reduce risks by identifying non-conformance.
Where building materials or electrical components are concerned, third-party testing and certification offer consistency and reliability when safety and performance testing of everything from building materials to mechanical systems, fire prevention systems and virtually any items used in buildings. Third-party testing and certification can help building owners mitigate risk.
Q) How do you ensure that your processes are thorough but speedy so that customers can get to market faster?
UL uses “state-of-the-art” platforms that maximise the potential offered by our global and local network of customer support staff, engineers, laboratories and inspectors. UL has a customer-centric approach to business, to provide the best possible turnaround time.
Q) What is the most important step of the certification process?
A) There is no single stage in the process that is more important than others. Each aspect is critical to the process, and therefore missing or reducing the diligence used jeopardises the whole process.
Q) What types of specific third-party certifications do you offer?
UL has third-party certification at the heart of our business. We have operated certification schemes for over 128 years and therefore have an extensive range of services across a wide range of product segments.
UL offers certification for all products that are used in a fire safety application. This includes products that remain “passive” in the event of a fire, such as fire doors and associated hardware, glass and fire protection of structural elements, including steelwork, concrete and timber. UL also certifies products and systems that are considered “active” such as smoke detectors, sounders and beacons and fire alarm panels, sprinklers and associated pipework.
UL has increasingly offered certification for operators who use and install the products and systems previously mentioned, which is referred to as installer certification.
Q) What does the future of third-party certification hold? Where do you see UL going?
There is an increasing focus on the building overall and not just products/systems and those that use them. Recent fires have shown that the ongoing management of buildings can play a critical role in maintaining the fire safety of the building.
Changes to the systems and infrastructure of a building can significantly affect the installed fire safety measures and these need to be managed and controlled by a knowledgeable, responsible person. A system that oversees this is in the spotlight.
Modern methods of construction (MMC) are also very much in focus due to the need to build using sustainable materials and in an environmentally friendly way. This often changes what is provided by traditional methods, which typically offer a level of resilience that modern materials cannot easily provide. This whole process will not be going away and, as I said, is increasing and therefore needs to be addressed before there are disastrous fire events in these types of buildings.