Do I need an LOA for this product?
LOA Requirements in South Africa
This is one of the most frequent questions we have to answer: “Do I need an LOA for this product?” The answer is not as straightforward as you might think and varies depending on who you speak to.
The answer from a NRCS official is often quite different to that of an LOA agent, who product manufacturers or suppliers contract to handle the LOA application process. Similarly, you’ll get a different answer from an independent technical expert familiar with the product’s safety profile, the product standards, regulations, and the content of the applicable compulsory specifications.
The requirements of standards and specifications are properly formulated to ensure that these requirements are unambiguous to prevent differences in interpretation and consistency in their application.
However, interpretations are often in conflict with the text of the specifications. This has a serious impact on suppliers and manufacturers.
The safety and health objectives of compulsory specifications
The safety and health objectives of compulsory specifications are clearly stated in NRCS Act 5:
“The purpose of the Act is—
(a) to provide a legal framework for the administration and maintenance of compulsory specifications in the interests of public safety and health or for environmental protection in the Republic; and
(b) to establish the National Regulator to administer compulsory specifications.”
Letters of Authority (LOAs) are issued by the NRCS to electrical and electronic regulated products falling within the scope of the applicable compulsory specifications. Although the scope of the applicable compulsory specification determines the range of products to which it applies, there is often some ambiguity.
While the NRCS is mandated and authorised to regulate products covered by Compulsory Specifications (VCs), the incidence of out-of-scope stoppages “which may lead to confiscation and destruction of consignments due to lack of a valid LOA” presents suppliers with unforeseen costs and unjustified delays in the release of imported consignments.
The risk of stoppages in many instances are overcome by suppliers on advise of their “LOA-agent” to obtain Type test reports for LOA approval, for extended product families, and some even on products that are outside the VC’s scope and should not be regulated.
The most comprehensive compulsory specification, VC8055, is a derivation from the first compulsory specification for domestic appliances, Government Notice 466, published in 1981.
With the formation of the NRCS in 2008, the regulator applied an” all-fits-one-size” approach, the published VC8055:2009 which has over time been expanded to cover far more than domestic appliances.
VC8055:2009 has become a conglomerate of international standards, which are covering the following nine technology sectors, each of which are the responsibility of different IEC Technical Committees representing the relevant technology sectors:
While the review and amendments to VC8055:2009 are long overdue, it is virtually impossible, irrational, and ineffective to update the specification through a properly representative technical committee in which stakeholders are adequately represented. The effectiveness can only be achieved with a focussed technical representation on the relevant technology sector.
VC9012 - Luminaires Project
A request initiated by the Illumination Engineering Society of SA to form a Lighting Technical Committee and to extract the luminaire requirements from VC8055 into a new specification VC9012 was approved during 2012. Unfortunately, this project has not yet been completed.
A similar request to extract electric motor-operated tools from VC8055 and develop a new specification (VC9105) has since been completed and was published in 2016.
Transparency and openness of the specification development process
Due to significantly different safety risk profiles for the various luminaire types, a large number of luminaire types and models and product variations have impacted the effectiveness and level of regulation. While industry stakeholders generally prefer a consensus-based standards development process as is applied by SABS for national standards, the NRCS’s consultative specification development process which is purported to be open and transparent, enables the NRCS to overrule justified technical arguments regarding product scope, content, and approval requirements, which affect the level of regulation. This approach has become a “bone of contention” and is the main cause of the unacceptable delay in concluding the VC 9012 project.
The first draft VC9012 was gazetted for comment during 2014, and comments were dealt with through various subsequent VC9012 stakeholder meetings, finally leading to new scope definitions that were submitted in September 2019 to the accounting officer of the NRCS to give direction on how to proceed in this matter. The NRCS Board was dissolved in 2014 following an amendment to the NRCS Act which makes the Minister legally responsible for its functions.
In the absence of any further feedback to industry stakeholders, the NRCS presentation given on the status of lighting specifications during the NRCS-Industry AGM in December 2023 announced that the VC9012 project suffered a “still birth” following the first publication for comment of the proposed compulsory specification in 2014. This announcement came as a big surprise to industry technical committee members who had since actively participated in various VC9012 Technical Committees.
It is clear that the VC9012 project has not followed the provisions of the regulatory requirements of R924 and NRCS’s Procedure CSP350 for the development of specifications and IESSA and Safehouse have taken this matter up with the new NRCS management as a matter of urgency.
So, do I need an LOA?
The answer is contained in the bold text of the extract below and would exclude apparatus which is not mains-powered, and which is not generally sold in normal retail distribution channels for the use by ordinary persons in.
While the basis of the VC8055 scope relates to that for domestic appliances as covered in SANS/IEC 60335, the concept of “use” would include handling, touching and therefore within reach of the ordinary person.
Similarly, battery-operated appliances and power tools are contained in SANS/IEC 60335, while battery-operated luminaires, lanterns and torches are not within the scope of the referenced luminaire standard SANS/IEC 60598 series are excluded.
The inclusion of safety transformers, reactors, and power supplies, as well as most commercial and industrial luminaire types, which are mounted out of reach would not be regarded as “user items” and should be interpreted as not being covered by the scope of VC8055 and therefore not requiring LOAs. To resolve these ambiguities, clarifications and amendments to the specification are a matter of urgency.
VC8055 – section 1. SCOPE
1.1 This specification covers safety and energy saving requirements for the specified types of mains-powered electrical and electronic apparatus listed below, rated at voltages not exceeding 500 V a.c. or d.c. and intended for use by ordinary persons in household, light industrial and general office applications. Such apparatus is generally available through normal retail distribution channels.
If you need support or guidance from Safehouse for any LOA or other queries, please do reach out to us
Safehouse invites you to explore our initiatives, or follow us on LinkedIn and consider becoming part of a community that protects lives and livelihoods. Together, we can build a future where electrical safety is not just an expectation but a guarantee.
Join us in this vital mission and become a representation of safety and excellence in the electrical industry.