AT A RECENT STATE CHAPTER MEETING of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, a code question evolved into a deeper discussion about the importance of electrical equipment maintenance.
The observation was made that “the condition of the equipment will never be better than on the day it is installed.” This isn’t to say that electrical equipment suffers serious degradation once it’s put into operation. The environment in which the equipment is installed, the type of equipment, and its use have a lot to do with the “aging” process. Plus, electrical equipment is subjected to rigorous testing by manufacturers and product certification organizations, including operational testing, simulated environmental exposure, and aging tests.
The electrical safety purpose of the NEC® states that “compliance therewith and proper maintenance results in an installation that is essentially free from hazard but not necessarily efficient, convenient, or adequate for good service or future expansion of electrical use.” While the statement is not a code requirement, it is clear that maintenance is considered part of the safety equation.
Compliance with NEC requirements is typically measured through the permitting and inspection process. Inspections conducted by qualified authorities having jurisdiction, such as electrical inspectors, building officials, fire marshals, and insurance inspectors, determine that an installation has met the applicable requirements and is safe for the end user. But once all the sign-offs have been finalized and the building or installation is deemed safe for occupancy and turned over to its owner, who is responsible for the maintenance? And how much maintenance is enough?
Inspection to assess ongoing compliance and proper maintenance of building safety systems, including electrical systems, occurs in many buildings and occupancies where failure of such systems poses a significant public safety threat. These include places of public assembly, educational buildings, high-rise buildings, and hotels and motels. But ongoing inspections and maintenance does not occur in every building or installation, a condition that can endanger not only occupants or users, but also electricians and other electrical workers who may need to perform justified energized tasks on electrical equipment, a point emphasized in the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®.
Electrical equipment installed outdoors is required to be suitable for the environment in which it will be installed. Marinas and boatyards are one of the most severe environments for electrical installation because of the wet environment, the movement of floating docks and piers, and occasional abuse and misuse resulting from user interface with the equipment.
Because of recent electric shock drowning incidents at marinas, these facilities have been the subject of discussions within the electrical and marine communities as to what can be done to prevent these incidents. The Fire Protection Research Foundation has completed the first phase of a project aimed at reducing electrical hazards at these facilities; the report “Assessment of Hazardous Voltage/Current in Marinas, Boatyards, and Floating Buildings”.
One result of these tragedies is legislation in several states creating re-inspection requirements for marinas and boatyards. Tennessee recently implemented the “Noah Dean and Nate Act,” named for two young boys whose deaths were attributed to electrical current in the water while swimming at a marina. The law calls for an initial inspection of the state’s 300 marinas and docks and follow-up inspections every five years.
Ongoing NEC compliance can be met through periodic re-inspection and proper maintenance of electrical equipment. It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes a tragedy to show how important this concept is.