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New safety standards for manufacturers

Feature

By Richard Poate, Senior Manager at TÜV SÜD

Manufacturers of ICT and AV equipment now have to comply with a new safety standard, otherwise they will no longer be able to sell their products in the EU without facing serious barriers.

On 20 December 2020, IEC 62368-1:2018 (Audio/video, information and communication technology equipment – Part 1: Safety requirements) superseded two standards that the industry has been familiar for years. This is because over the last decade, compliance requirements for multi-media products have been increasingly falling under both IEC 60065 (AV equipment) and IEC 60950-1 (IT equipment).

The new IEC 62368 standard not only relates to the end product but to components and subsystems, such as power supplies and hard drives. Product types covered by the new IEC 62368 include:

  • Computing and networking products
  • Consumer electronics
  • Displays and display units
  • Telecommunication products
  • Office appliances
  • Other types of audio/video, information and communication technology equipment

IEC 62368 introduces a completely new methodology and it is the first time that a hazard-based test approach is required for these product types. The previous two standards closely dictated product design and were known as ‘prescriptive’ standards. Rather than prescriptive tests, IEC 62368 uses a performance methodology to assess the safeguards incorporated to protect against the potential risks presented by identified hazards.

Under the old standards, manufacturers would have to prove that prescribed requirements had been met. They are now instead required to demonstrate that hazards have been identified and considered, that appropriate safeguards have been implemented and that the performance of those safeguards has been suitably tested and evaluated. There must also be evidence that the product has been designed to be safe to use in the expected context.

For the purposes of IEC 62368, Hazard-based Safety Engineering defines a hazard as an energy source that exceeds the body susceptibility limits. An energy source can be:

  • Electric shock energy source
  • Electrically-caused fire energy source
  • Chemical energy source
  • Mechanical energy source
  • Thermal energy source
  • Radiation energy source

A useful way to remember the difference between ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ is that you only have a risk if you have a hazard, but you need a third element to make the hazard a risk – exposure. However, even though IEC 62368 mandates a hazard-based approach, it does not require risk assessment.

While IEC 60065 and IEC60950 followed a set of specific rules and criteria outlined in both standards, IEC 62368 requires the identification of safety hazards in the early product development phase, so that subsequent product designs eliminate them. It also provides more performance options to demonstrate compliance.

There is also a hierarchy of safeguards, which can be applied, that must be taken into account:

  1. Equipment safeguards – do not require any knowledge or actions by persons coming into contact with the equipment.
  2. Installation safeguards – when a safety characteristic can only be provided after installation. For example, the equipment has to be bolted to the floor to provide stability.
  3. Behavioural safeguards – when the equipment requires an energy source to be accessible.

The prescriptive test-based approach of the old standards left little room for subjectivity, as they required engineers to apply specific tests to prove compliance. The introduction of IEC 62368 sees us move from an objective method of proving compliance to a more subjective approach, which relies on engineering expertise to identify potential hazards. It is therefore critical that care is taken to identify all the potential hazards and transfer mechanisms and to make sure the employed safeguards are appropriate.

The introduction of IEC 62368 goes beyond a merger of the two old standards as it has a different structure and demands significant changes to safety testing. Its new hazard-based philosophy also makes it a technology-independent safety standard that should offer more future-proofing and introduce greater design freedoms, leading to the creation of safer products for end users.

Manufacturers that have not taken advantage of the standard’s transition period now have less than two months to make these fundamental changes. However, jumping straight into full testing can be expensive and risky. Our advice would be to conduct a pre-compliance review and identify what is needed to make the product compliant to the new standard.

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