New Standards Guide Flashlight Selection

Professionals now can rely on a uniform rating system when evaluating lighting equipment.

There are times -- such as when responding to an emergency or making repairs under low-light conditions -- when safety in the workplace greatly depends on a high-quality flashlight, lantern, or headlamp. But for occupational workers, selecting the right lighting equipment sometimes can be a bewildering task, given the many choices available these days. While technological advances have brought a wide variety of innovations and new options in hand-held lighting, until now there have been no standardized tests or a uniform rating system for flashlights. As a result, customers couldn't tell how a light would perform until they bought it and tried it for themselves, which sometimes resulted in a costly mistake. And there had been no way to police false product claims made by manufacturers.

Now these decisions are being made easier, thanks to a new flashlight standard developed by 14 of the largest U.S. flashlight manufacturers. Developed with the guidance of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the series of guidelines is called the ANSI/NEMA FL 1-2009 Flashlight Basic Performance Standard. The first worldwide flashlight standard, it also introduces definitions and testing methods for flashlight basic performance, as well as associated marking.

ANSI oversees the creation, publication, and use of thousands of norms and guidelines for a wide range of businesses in a variety of industries. NEMA is comprised of approximately 450 member companies that manufacture products used in the generation, transmission, distribution, control and end-use of electricity.

The new flashlight standard is designed to help users rate and compare the most important features of personal lighting tools, including peak beam intensity, beam distance, impact resistance, run time, light output, and water resistance. To develop the standard, the participating manufacturers set aside competitive differences and decided as a group on which basic metrics, such as run time and light output, to measure. After more than two years of research, discussion, and testing, they arrived at the standard consensus, representing a great step forward for the industry and a genuine benefit for professional and consumer users alike.

Flashlights made by these manufacturers now will display ratings indicating how the light performed in standardized tests. Each participating manufacturer conducts its own tests, adhering to very specific guidelines, although companies may not "pick and choose" which standards they display.

As manufacturers complete testing of their products to the standard, the ratings are being featured on companies' websites, in catalogs, and on product packaging.

Following are the metrics covered by the ANSI/NEMA FL 1-2009 Standard:

Peak Beam Intensity
The maximum luminous intensity typically along the central axis of a cone of light. This measures the brightest part of the beam. The value is reported in candela.

Beam Distance
The distance from the device at which the light beam is 0.25 lux. Results are reported in meters.

Impact Resistance
The degree to which a portable light resists damage when dropped on a solid surface. Dropped samples must not exhibit any crack or break and must remain fully functional in order to pass the Impact Resistance test.

Run Time
The duration of time from the initial light output value (30 seconds after the light is turned on with fresh batteries) until the light output drops to 10 percent of the initial value.

Light Output
A measurement of the total quantity of emitted overall light energy. The value is reported in lumens.

Water Resistance
There are three tests that measure water resistance:

  • Resistance to temporary immersion in water
  • Resistance to continuous immersion in water
  • Resistance to splashing water

While compliance with this standard is voluntary, the coalition hopes all flashlight companies will adopt it. Consumers deserve such complete and accurate information as they make decisions about their flashlight purchases. Look for the new data the next time you are in the market for a flashlight. For more information on the standard, visit www.nema.org/stds/fl1.cfm.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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