Standards developed under the umbrella of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) facilitate international trade and enable manufacturers to maintain a single product for world market access.  Many governments adopt IEC standards as their own and may even include them in their regulatory structure to help ensure the safety of their country's populace and property on the basis that compliance with the requirements establishes playing field on which producers must compete while providing a minimum suitable level of performance for their devices.  It is beneficial for manufacturers to work within the IEC process to gain acceptance of specifications that include their own products within the scope of the standards and it helps the IEC to achieve world-wide market relevance, a goal indicated in the IEC Masterplan 2006.

So why is it that even after more than 2 decades of effort, many US based wiring devices (plugs, outlets, even GFCI's) are excluded from IEC standards or are relegated to second-class status?  For example, the US has been attempting to obtain inclusion of arcuate blade products in IEC 60309 under SC23H for years but enough other members of the subcommittee continue to reject the proposals to prevent these North American products from being covered in the standard.  US devices are installed with American Wire Guage (AWG) sized conductors but IEC standard 60884-1: Plugs and socket-outlets for household and similar purposes has not included these sizes in its test protocols despite the safety issues involved, including potential excessive temperature rises and possible wire pull-out.  In a subtle nuance, a simple statement in the installation requirements addressed in IEC 60364-5-53: Selection and erection of electrical equipment – Isolation, switching and control results in a usage restriction for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) so that these safety devices, installed in the millions throughout North American (and other countries) residences and commercial establishments, cannot be used by the majority of the public and must be supervised by trained electricians or other qualified personnel.  Also, the recently approved draft of IEC 62640: Residual current devices with or without overcurrent protection for socket-outlets for household and similar uses, under IEC SC23E, does not contain requirements considered critical for safe installation in electrical systems similar to those common throughout North America.  The US, and Canada, have be working for more than a decade to correct these deficiencies affecting GFCIs but have not been successful in their efforts.

To be fair and accurate, when the pertinent IEC standards were under development, the US participation in those committees was minimal or non-existent, or the US just "rubber-stamped" the IEC documents without pushing to obtain coverage for the US products.  Also, the vast majority of other IEC standards do include US products on an equivalent basis.  However, in standards as mentioned above, in spite of numerous proposals and offered compromises, arcuate blade (twist-lock) wiring devices and voltage dependent residual current devices (essentially US GFCI's) and others are absent or are forced to comply with significant additional testing and construction requirements or are restricted in their use to such an extent as to effectively prevent market access outside the US market.

Even the IEC management has tried to push the "offending" committees to open their documents to be inclusive to no avail.  In the latest efforts, an international group, including US participants, developed a draft modification to a technical committee's strategic business plan but the effort that went into achieving consensus with the Ad Hoc was for naught as the proposal was rendered ineffectual by modifications made at the insistence of a group of countries during recent meetings.

What more will it take?


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