Should you dread a UL audit?

Not if you’ve done your homework and you know what to expect, two specialists tell the CSAA
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

VIENNA, Va.—For central stations pursuing UL certification or expecting their first audit, there can be uncertainty and maybe even a touch of anxiety. It’s an important benchmark—will your facility be able to stand up to the scrutiny?

To take some of the mystery out of the process, the Central Station Alarm Association recently hosted a webinar titled “What to Expect During a UL Site Audit.” Steve Schmit, engineering manager for product safety at Underwriters Laboratories, and Joe Weller, UL program/project manager for certificate service, walked participants through a typical day of site review.

Schmit said certification isn’t a small undertaking, and it brings responsibilities that can be hard to live up to if a central station isn’t focused. That extends to audit day, when one of the keys to success is knowing what to expect and taking the steps needed to be ready for it, he said.

“My mind goes back to the old saying that failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Schmit said. “Organizing and preparing can often reveal issues that you didn’t know about yourself. Trying to think through how you’re going to store the record for emergency lighting tests might uncover the fact that your service contract has expired. That sort of thing is not uncommon.”

Annual audits are scheduled seven to 25 days in advance, with a written report issued by UL within 15 days of the audit. If areas of noncompliance are noted, correspondence is due to UL within 30 days describing the corrections that will be made.

Weller provided an overview of the agenda for a typical audit, which involves three steps: an administrative review, a tour of the facilities, and a records review.   

“Using our surveillance model, we will ensure that the customer complies with the standards in place [UL 827 and NFPA 72],” he said. “We will also try to help the customer better understand the requirements. And because the ISO guidelines [ISO Guide 65] require documentation, we will deliver a report of our findings.”

The administrative review includes making sure that certificates and listing information are correct. The tour of facilities involves examining building construction, fire protection, standby lighting and clocks, power supplies, cable systems and automation equipment. In the records review, common logs and signal processing information are checked.

After the audit is complete, UL provides an informal verbal report to give the company a chance to clarify results and perhaps correct the information on record, Weller said. Clearance procedures and responsibilities are reviewed, along with expectations for corrective action if it is necessary.

Schmit stressed that UL is not a “police force” for the alarm industry or even an inspection agency. The goal, he said, is to confirm that a central station has controls in place that result in UL compliance, which in turn adds value to the company’s service.

“The things you fix and do to stay in compliance really affect your customers’ experience as well,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s really the intent of the UL standards—to make sure our mutual constituents get the advantage of the best alarm service possible.”