Global safety science major UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has set up a state-of-the-art facility in Gurugram, its second such centre in India after Bangalore. UL conducts safety audits for companies across industries, testing, inspecting and certifying products to ensure they measure up to global safety standards. Suresh Sugavanam – V-P and MD, UL South Asia – spoke to Sharad Kohli about the new lab, and what India must do to create a culture of safety.

Q How much of a game changer is the new 80,000 sq ft facility?

A The facility in Gurugram is UL’s second ‘Center of Excellence’ (CoE) in India after Bangalore, and is in line with the our ‘In India, for India’ strategy to support domestic manufacturers meet regulatory compliance to access domestic and global markets.

The Gurugram CoE signifies the benefits that can be harnessed from integrating various capabilities. With the rapid convergence of several technologies and products, there is a clear demand for easy access to cross-functional testing and engagement under one roof. For example, smart lighting manufacturers rely on both lighting and technology (eg. cyber security) experts to meet regulatory compliance and improve their products. And, toy manufacturers look for electrical, electronic, mechanical and chemical safety experts all together.

At UL, we believe that co-location of experts and testing capabilities will benefit manufacturers and the regulators – and in the end, the end-consumers. With the Gurugram Center of Excellence, we are pleased to lead that change in India.

Q From your perspective as a market leader, and having completed 20 years in the country, where do you think India stands when it comes to providing reliable testing, inspection and certification (TIC) services?

A The level of engagement of global and domestic third-party TIC companies with the government, the industry or consumers, is on the upswing, and there is greater acceptability and appreciation of their contribution in developing a robust quality ecosystem in the country. However, we need to be conscious and responsible that at no point of time does the TIC industry compromise on quality of service delivery or in meeting compliance requirements of regulators. In addition, there is a need to adopt some of the global best practices to facilitate business – especially ‘Make in India’ – without compromising on safety, quality of testing, inspection and certification.

Q And when it comes to a culture of safety, have attitudes changed for the better over the years?

A Sustainable economic transformation goes hand in hand with improving safety and quality parameters. In India, we are still at an early stage of development in terms of building a safety culture. There are challenges in increasing safety and quality awareness at a consumer level, acceptability at a manufacturer level and enforcement at a regulator level. The pull has to come from the consumers who have to demand safety, and the push has to come from the manufacturers, industry bodies and regulators.

There is certainly a growing awareness of safety, and an openness to be audited or to adopt global standards – however, we have a long way to go.

Q Where do you see the potential for growth in the next decade, both domestically and globally, in the safety science space?

A Several market research reports have pointed to an uptick in growth for TIC services, between 5-6 %, around the world over the last five years. A large part of the growth in demand for safety and performance testing and certification is coming from developing countries, including India. This is mainly driven by the changing regulatory scenario that calls for higher compliance with quality, performance and safety standards.

As connected products and technologies proliferate at a rapid rate, this traditional growth trajectory of TIC companies will also witness incremental jumps. Risks, both known and unknown, posed by new technologies like cybersecurity and digital payments, will create demand for safety sciences to solve these challenges.