As the 50th edition of the National Electrical Code® is about to roll off the presses, it´s clear some things have remained the same.
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2004
by Alan R. Earls
"The NEC is the bible of the electrical industry," says James T. Pauley, an executive at Square D, an electrical manufacturer in Lexington, Kentucky. "The document is likely quoted and cited more than any other construction code in the world."
In the United States alone, almost 3.8 trillion kilowatts of electricity flow through an electrical system regulated in accordance with the safety requirements of the NEC, which, says Pauley, is probably the least amended code in the construction industry. Some states and localities do amend the code, but the changes are generally minimal when compared to the breadth of the document.
"This is a testament to the process used to develop the NEC," he says. "It represents consensus at the highest level, and that is reflected in the level of adoption achieved."To have an effective electrical safety system, says Pauley, you must have three key components: an installation code, product standards and a program that certifies products to those standards, and an effective inspection and enforcement system.
"The installation code is the keystone to this system and is the link from an electrical product to safe installation and use by the consumer," he says.
In the United States, the NEC is that installation code.
"The National Electrical Code not only promotes best practices, it is also a nearly universal document, which helps everyone in the business achieve the safest possible results," says home-improvement television personality Bob Vila.
As written, the code, which has been adopted in all 50 states, covers electric conductors and equipment installed in or on public and private buildings or other structures, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, floating buildings, and such premises as yards, carnivals, parking lots, and industrial substations. It also covers conductors that connect the installations to an electrical supply; other outside conductors and equipment on the premises; optical fiber cable; and buildings used by an electric utility, such as office buildings, warehouses, garages, machine shops, and recreational buildings that are not an integral part of a generating plant, substation, or control center.
Writing the NEC
The NEC is developed by more than 450 volunteer panel members and alternates, representing electrical contractors, designers, inspectors, and manufacturers; electrical testing laboratories; electricity suppliers and utilities; enforcing authorities; insurance organizations; labor; and other users. These volunteers participate in 19 code-making panels set up to ensure fair representation for all affected interests, and these code-making panels are managed by an 11-member correlating committee.
At the heart of their work is a process that promotes full and open discussion, since no one interest group can dominate a code-making panel. Indeed, any individual or organization can respond to proposals for public comment or offer suggestions for future editions of the code.
To ensure that no voice is ignored and no idea missed, the panels are required to respond to every proposal or comment by reviewing it, commenting on it, and preparing a report for the rest of the NFPA membership. And before any new edition of the NEC is published, members of the public are invited to provide further input, and all NFPA members, even those without a direct stake in the NEC, can vote on the proposed edition. The resulting code, built upon the expertise of such a diverse and expert group, does a good job protecting the public while remaining open to innovation that promotes advances in design and development.
But openness isn't the only attribute of the NEC code-making process. The panels are also given considerable responsibility and are expected to work on issues in detail. And they are given ample time to do so. That is in part to ensure that the panel has sufficient opportunity to gather information and weigh ideas, but it's also to ensure that interested parties have the opportunity to review and comment on any proposed code revision. The process depends on the professionalism of the many volunteers who serve on the panels. The result is a forward-looking and thorough "living" document that provides the most up-to-date electrical safety code available in the United States.
The NEC is also part of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) structure. ANSI is a private, nonprofit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system.
Dr. Mark W. Hurwitz, ANSI president and CEO, says ANSI congratulates NFPA on its publication of the 50th edition of the NEC and notes that, since its first edition, the NEC has directly contributed to improved convenience, enhanced safety, and lower prices for all consumers.
"Its widespread implementation and use have had a significant and positive impact on today's society," he says.
Hurwitz notes that, as an ANSI-accredited standards developer, NFPA operates under a set of procedures based upon openness, balance, consensus, and due process. Voluntary standards, especially safety standards, serve and protect the public interest, he says, because they are developed through the cooperative efforts of government, consumers, and industry.
"Such a process not only promotes a public-private partnership and provides more flexibility than a simple government rule-making process, but it also promotes U.S. business products and practices globally," he says. "This is evidenced in the widespread use of the NEC and its adoption into law in many jurisdictions both in the U.S. and around the world."
Hurwitz lauded NFPA for continuing to maintain the NEC as an American national standard.
Aside from achieving the high safety standards set by the code, the uniformity it provides also has many benefits. Brooke Stauffer, executive director of standards and safety for the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), says it's extremely important for NECA members working in areas that may involve multiple municipalities or states to have a shared standard.
"If every time they cross a certain border line they have to deal with significantly different rules, that's a problem," he says.
The result can be extra trips to bring in more supplies or having to assign additional people to a particular job. And, because the differences could be confusing from one jurisdiction to another, the results could be reduced safety.
"For safety and business reasons, it is important for contractors to have uniform wiring rules," he says.
Stauffer says that's one of the factors that have motivated NECA to stay involved with the code-creation process for most of its existence. NECA, founded in 1901, is the leading representative of a segment of the construction market composed of more than 70,000 electrical contracting firms. The industry employs more than 650,000 electrical workers and produces annual revenues of more than $95 billion.
"We have representatives on each of the code panels," says Stauffer, "and we support NEC wholeheartedly and without reservation."
Jack Wells, vice president of corporate development at Syracuse, New York-based Pass & Seymour/Legrand, a manufacturer of wiring products, says the NEC's significance lies in the fact that it is the foundation for the entire electrical system in the United States.
"It really doesn't have any competition," he says.
"It is the single most widely adopted code in the country, if not in the world," he notes. "It is used directly or indirectly in a number of countries, such as Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, the Philippines, and others, which is why it is also published in Spanish."In addition, it was the basis for the Canadian electrical code and for the Japanese installation code, he says. Along with NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®; and NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code™, it is also part of the Comprehensive Consensus Codes® (C3), the only full set of construction codes for the built environment developed through processes accredited by ANSI.
According to Mark W. Earley, P.E., assistant vice president and chief electrical engineer at NFPA, the 50th edition of the NEC contains many changes, some quite substantial. Earley serves as secretary of the National Electrical Code Committee and is the chief editor of the National Electrical Code Handbook. He is co-author of Electrical Installations in Hazardous Locations and has published numerous technical articles on the fire protection of electrical equipment. He is also the executive editor of necdigest™.
"Actually, the 2005 edition provides a further refinement of our 2002 edition, which included some of the most substantive changes in the history of the code," he says. "Over time, we'd developed additional materials and new code articles that we didn't always have room to include where they might have fit best. So we did a major reorganization to place them more logically and to make them easier to find. We used a common format among articles so that a user can find the same kinds of information in the same place in each article. We also rearranged a lot of the articles. To some extent it was simply a reshuffling and reorganizing.
"We also did something new with the Panel 16 articles. There is now some parallel structure in those articles so they follow a common template. We did that with chapters of the 2002 NEC, but this is a similar initiative for Chapters 7 and 8."
Among new or revised items in the 2005 edition is Article 220, which covers load calculation and was revised primarily from a usability standpoint. Also revised were Articles 409, which focuses on industrial control panels; 506, a zone classification scheme for locations that are hazardous because of the presence of dust or flyings such as lint; and 682, which looks at "other bodies of water." Article 682 parallels the current Article 680 as far as addressing hazards near water, but it also covers things 680 doesn't.
This edition also contains some expanded ground fault circuit interrupter requirements. For instance, it now covers boat lift installations and vending machines. There was a particular concern about the rugged environments vending machines are often exposed to and the limited maintenance they receive.
The arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) requirements have also been revised to reflect new technology. Reference to AFCIs first appeared in the 1999 edition, and their role has been expanded in the 2005 edition, which requires that they be added to existing branch circuits in homes whenever the electrical panel is replaced.
"We believe the new, more usable structure should help NEC enter additional markets," says Earley. "We are constantly finding out about new places that it has been adopted, either formally or de facto. For instance, I was at a conference recently when a delegate from an Asian country came and told me how much he liked the code and how they had been using it for years—although it appears there were copyright issues involved with that because we had never heard anything about it!"
"NFPA is proud to continue producing a document that is used by so many segments of the electrical community," says Earley.
"It is very gratifying that industry puts so much time and effort into this," he says. "The quality of this reflects the industry's dedication. It is a good solid document that can be relied on to provide electrical safety."