AUTHOR: Dean Austin

An Electrical Inspector’s Role in Reducing Electric Shock Drowning

With dozens of papers and videos created around electric shock drowning (ESD) you would think that living and conducting electrical inspections in Michigan, a state with 3,288 miles of freshwater shoreline and numerous marinas, I would have known about ESD. Well, you would be wrong; I had no idea what ESD was until I started working at NFPA. I wondered if I was the only electrical inspector who was unaware, so I asked several inspector and electrician friends, and the answer was overwhelmingly, “No I do not, what is it?” This was shocking to me, but also provided me an opportunity to educate them. So, how can an electrical inspector have an impact? We must first answer the question of; what is ESD? According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, it is the result of the passage of a typically low-level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis, rendering the victim unable to help himself / herself, while immersed in freshwater, eventually resulting in drowning of the victim. Higher levels of AC current in the water will also result in electrocution. It has been said that ESD is the catch-all phrase that encompasses all in-water shock casualties and fatalities. ESD occurrences happen more in freshwater environments than in salt water, which is why ESD is a concern around freshwater docking facilities, marinas, lakes, and ponds. Creating a specific code section in the NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) for ESD may sound simple, but it is not. ESD is not a piece of electrical equipment or an electrical conductor but rather a phenomenon that can occur where boats in water are connected to shore power electricity. ESD is impacting the construction of boats, marinas, and docking facilities, which may help reduce occurrences of ESD. Even though ESD isn’t specifically addressed in the NEC, it has had a significant impact on recent changes that have been made in it. New solutions towards helping to eliminate ESD have become a regular subject in the code making process, public inputs, and comments for potential new NEC requirements. Although not finalized yet, suggested changes to the 2023 NEC that electrical inspectors should be aware of and that could have a positive impact on ESD reduction are: Emergency electrical disconnects within sight of the marina power outlets, which allows bystanders to quickly de-energize power to the boat and safely release a person who may be suffering an electric shock. Adding equipotential planes and bonding of equipotential planes that could help mitigate step and touch voltages for electrical equipment that supply power to the equipment. Requiring modified, repaired, or replaced equipment be updated to current provisions due to exposure to harsh environments. As conversations around ESD continue throughout the code development process it is important to remember the current requirements found in the 2020 NEC, and how electrical inspectors can use those sections to make an impact in reducing ESD. Through enforcement of electrical codes the inspector can help educate and inform owners and installers about ESD risks. Here are just a few code sections inspectors might want to be looking for: Signage - You might wonder, since when do electrical inspectors enforce non-electrical signage around marinas, boatyards, and docking facilities and how can they help prevent ESD? They can do it by continuing to warn everybody of the true dangers facing them. These areas are challenged with constantly changing environments because numerous boats in various degrees of electrical repair travel in and out of these facilities. This can make a place you may otherwise consider swimming in, potentially unsafe due to low-level AC current (leakage current). Installing permanent safety signs around marinas, boatyards and docking facilities gives notice of electrical shock hazard risks to persons within those areas. Signs should say more than “No Swimming” since some people may not take that warning seriously and swim anyway. Code language was added to have signs state: “No Swimming: “WARNING-POTENTIAL SHOCK HAZARD-ELECTRICAL CURRENTS MAY BE PRESENT IN THE WATER.” To aide in further preventing ESD, docking facilities was added in the 2020 NEC to the already existing areas of marinas and boatyards found in section 555.10. Ground-fault protection - Changes in the 2020 NEC, Article 555 Marinas, Boatyards, Floating Buildings, and Commercial and Noncommercial Docking Facilities address both ground-fault protection of equipment (GFPE) and ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. With cumulative effects of leakage current causing excess tripping of 30 milliampere GFPE devices, changes were made to code language that increased GFPE current settings not to exceed 100 milliamperes on feeders and branch circuits, which will cause inspectors to alter how they enforce this section. This change helped to facilitate more dependable power for marinas and docking facilities. However, individual branch circuits feeding single shore powered receptacles, must have individual GFPE devices set to open at currents not exceeding 30 milliamperes. Coincidentally, this requirement matches main breaker settings in boats manufactured after July 31, 2017. Leakage current measurement device - New 2020 NEC language allows electrical inspectors to require marinas, boatyards and docking facilities that have more than three receptacles supplying shore power to boats to have a leakage current measurement device available on site. This device would allow facility operators to isolate and notify boat owners of leakage current so repairs could be made by a qualified person, thus helping to eliminate a potential ESD risk. Private docks - Locations where ESD hazards may easily get overlooked or not inspected are on lakes surrounded by homes with private docks. These homes don’t always have shore power but may have electrically powered boat hoists. Section 555.9 was added requiring boat hoist outlets not exceeding 240-volts installed at dwelling unit docking facilities have GFCI protection for personnel. We have seen notable code changes within Article 555 over the last several cycles. Prior to the 2017 NEC, warning signs around marinas, boatyards, or docking facilities were not an NEC requirement, but they are now. GFCI and GFPE have had changes made within Article 555 over the 2017 and 2020 NEC cycles. Boat hoist GFCI protection was added to the 2020 NEC, plus numerous potential changes that may occur in the 2023 NEC cycle. There’s been a lot of positive influence on the codes because of the risks surrounding ESD, including regulating electrical requirements in marinas, boatyards and docking facilities, rendering them much safer now. But you still can’t swim there! As inspectors, we can help raise awareness of ESD in our communities. It starts with educating ourselves. Visit NFPA’s ESD web to learn more about this topic and ways to help mitigate the risk of ESD.
Structural reinforcing steel that serves as the pool shell bonding

Code Compliant Electrical Installation the Key to Swimmer Safety and a Secure Electrical System in Pools

Now that summer has arrived, many of us will be taking advantage of the nice weather to jump into swimming pools to cool off. But what many people don’t realize, is there’s a lot to keeping us safe from electrical hazards in these wet environments. Much of this depends on the initial electrical installation. Something that is often overlooked after the pool has been installed and inspected, is maintenance of the pool and associated pool equipment. As we all know, Father Time is not always kind to electrical installations, which may require re-inspections for safety. Based on changes to the 2020 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is permitted to periodically inspect and test pools. If they so choose, municipalities can now implement a process to periodically inspect and test pools, associated pool equipment, and the equipotential bonding after the initial installation inspection to help ensure reliability and continued safety. A code compliant electrical installation for a pool, completed by a licensed qualified electrician, is vital to the overall performance of the electrical system and the swimmer’s ability to cool off safely. The conductive pool shell, perimeter surfaces, metal forming shell for underwater luminaires, ladder cups, diving board bracket, the water, and other metal surfaces are where the equipotential bonding system is found. This equipotential bonding system surrounds the pool with connections to a #8 AWG solid copper conductor. This solid copper conductor is terminated to all the above points then routed underground or within the concrete, back to the pool pump motor and terminated on the grounding lug located on pump motor. The NEC in Section 680.26(B)(6) requires sufficient length in the equipotential bonding conductor for future pump replacement. Best practice would be to provide enough additional conductor to terminate it anywhere on the motor in the event the lug is not in the same location. These connections are crucial to equalizing the electrical potential of all conductive surfaces, ladders, diving boards, underwater luminaries, and water that are all found with pools. Because pools are subject to corrosion and use corrosive chemicals, terminations, many of which are underground or within concrete, must be listed and labeled for the environment they are being installed in. People often think that once a pool is installed, all they need to do is add chemicals to the water and clean the pool. This myth is where problems arise as maintenance and periodic inspection and testing of the pool equipment is a very important part of the overall electrical safety of the pool. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) need to be tested in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions, which is typically monthly. Also, as a part of the maintenance, grounding connections should be checked for corrosion, loose connections, or rust; all of these can inhibit the functioning of the equipotential bond, which could result in an electrical shock or an electric shock drowning (ESD). If corrosion is seen on any terminations, those points should be cleaned and or replaced by a qualified person as these connections are crucial to the safety of the people who use the pool. Pool pump motors do not last forever and therefore must be replaced, which requires the disconnection and reconnection of the equipotential bonding conductor from the motor. As previously mentioned, additional slack in the solid copper conductor is required at the motor location for motor replacement because consideration was taken for bonding lug location. When a state chooses to legislatively adopt the 2020 NEC, which makes it enforceable by an AHJ, Section 680.4 permits the periodic inspection and testing by the AHJ of the pool system. This may help encourage the maintenance and repair of the pool system and equipotential bond.   Maintenance on pools, associated pool equipment, and the equipotential bonding system is no different than maintaining a car by getting the oil changed. It is not difficult to do; the 2020 NEC provides this direction and is instrumental in helping to prevent a fun day at the pool from turning into a tragedy. Find additional information and resources for electrical inspection professionals at NFPA 70 the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at   
Electrician tools

Safety for Electrical Inspectors, is it Really that Different?

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), there were 126 electrical fatalities in 2020, which is down 24 percent over 2019 numbers. Electrical fatality rates reflected 0.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, of which 0.6 fatalities per 100,000 workers were in the construction industry. Private industry accounted for 118 of the 126 fatalities. These numbers, while better than previous years are still too high. A group that is susceptible to these electrical safety risks, one that may not always seem so clear, is electrical inspectors. While many electrical inspectors are not installing electrical systems any longer, they are, still, frequent visitors to active construction sites looking at electrical installations completed by others. So it isn’t unreasonable to believe they may be exposed to similar hazards as the other construction workers, such as: frayed extension cords exposed temporary wiring energized electrical equipment ·open trenches moving construction equipment loud noise Electrical inspectors often are former construction workers themselves and may be somewhat familiar with these listed hazards, but that doesn’t mean they were properly trained and able to readily recognize them. Not all inspections an electrical inspector performs are on new construction, or even on commercial construction sites. Residential electrical inspections, to both new and existing homes, can also present electrical hazards.  With the variety of inspections performed, always being able to clearly identify electrical safety hazards can be challenging. Especially with newer technology installations such as solar photovoltaic and energy storage systems (ESS); installations that an inspector may not be aware of because they have never inspected, or personally installed, these systems before. Statistics raise awareness about a specific topic, in this case fatalities connected to an encounter with electricity. A goal of raising awareness is often an increased focus on keeping workers safe. Injuries affect more than the victim, it impacts their families, employers, and fellow employees. So how do we reduce the fatalities and the resulting impact? One way is assessing risk by utilizing The Hierarchy of Risk Control (HoRC) Method, as stated in 120.5(H)(3) of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®: Elimination. Physically remove the hazard. Substitution. Replace the hazard, potentially by reducing energy levels. Engineering Controls. Isolate people from the hazard. Awareness. Signs Alerting of potential presence of hazards. Administrative Controls. Change the way people work or conduct inspections by having procedures and job planning tools. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Protect the worker and inspector with the correct gear. Now you are probably wondering how these methods can apply to an electrical inspector’s job. Although not a listed part of the HoRC, every inspector should review the jobsite safety policy and compare it to their employer’s policy and utilize the more stringent of the two. Due to time constraints I know this doesn’t happen often, but it should. The start of the HoRC is by eliminating risks to the inspection like not opening electrical equipment without first placing it into an electrically safe working condition (ESWC) as described in Article 120 of NFPA 70E. Maybe it isn’t convenient to have an ESWC during normal hours, so a substitute option would be to conduct the inspection outside of normal working hours, which may make facilitating an ESWC easier. An afterhours inspection may also help to isolate more people from the hazard. Frequently there are warning signs placed on or around electrical equipment that are not always a requirement of the NEC but do provide valuable information to aid in keeping inspectors safe if we are paying attention. Check in with superintendents or facility managers to see if they have procedures set in place for conducting inspections. As a last resort, PPE can be used if none of the other items remove the risk. While PPE, like a fall arrest system or arc rated face shield may be used as needed, there are other types that should be a part of your daily wear, like: arc-rated clothing safety vest hard hat safety glasses safety boots This high-level overview of safety tips will hopefully help electrical inspectors, and others, to think more about safety in their daily tasks as they conduct them. A safe electrical inspector is a valuable inspector. Remember, safety is everybody’s responsibility and needs to become a part of everyone’s workplace culture. We need to hold each other accountable for our actions, in order to work toward getting fatality numbers to finally reach zero. For more information and related resources, visit the NFPA electrical inspection webpage at

The Impact of Slow Code Implementation - What is an Inspector to Do?

The 2023 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code (NEC®) will soon be released. You might be thinking wait, what? My jurisdiction is still enforcing an older version of the NEC, wait for me! The NFPA standards development process has hundreds of volunteers, who donate over 30,000 hours of time thoroughly reviewing each NEC article and section along with thousands of public inputs so that a safe and useable code can be produced on time. Local code promulgation often lags due to navigating its way through local administrative processes, which take time. This may be at a state, county, or city level, which allows citizens, businesses, and organizations within those areas an opportunity to provide input to legislators on what codes should be implemented in that jurisdiction. Local committees may be formed and tasked with analyzing each section of the NEC to determine what they will amend, keep, or remove. These committees are usually comprised of electrical inspectors, licensed electricians, business owners, homeowners, and utility company representatives, all with their unique perspectives on the NEC. One difficult discussion that often takes place in local committee meetings is around the justification for an increase in new home construction costs by using the latest codes. Other topics can center on installations in different geographical locations as some areas deal with very warm weather while others extreme cold. The time these discussions and meetings take have an impact on the timely promulgation of the latest code.  So, what does a possible slow implementation of a code mean to citizens and electrical inspectors? A NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute report, “Falling Behind on Electrical Safety: Wide Variations in State Adoptions of the NEC Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety” shows the impact of electrical safety on communities that are not using the latest NEC updates and installations methods. One example is solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Rapid shutdown of PV systems is extremely helpful to first responders. Article 690 Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems of the 2011 NEC, and prior editions, does not mention rapid shutdown of PV systems mounted in or on buildings. It is not until the 2014 cycle of the NEC where rapid shutdown of PV systems is brought into section 690.12. So, any jurisdiction enforcing versions prior to the 2014 NEC may lack the ability to enforce rapid shut down of PV systems through the NEC, putting lives at risk. Another example is electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. In the 2011 NEC, article 625 Electric Vehicle Charging System doesn’t mention wireless charging stations but the 2020 NEC article 625, Electric Vehicle Power Transfer System, does because of newer technology that may benefit users. Electrical inspectors are charged with enforcing the version of the NEC and any amendments that have been implemented by the jurisdiction in which they inspect. Lagging code promulgation makes it challenging to collaborate and get consistency with code enforcement when fellow inspectors in adjoining jurisdictions are operating on a different version of the NEC. Within the United States, there are currently several versions of the NEC being utilized across all the 50 states. To this end, electrical inspectors may feel powerless when it comes to timely implementation of the latest NEC. But there are ways to help the process along. Since most codes are incorporated into law by reference through a governmental rule process, electrical inspectors can contact their local government representative to help educate them on timely approval of the newest edition of the NEC. Attending public meetings on the new codes is helpful, as well. Another is to ask government officials to register and answer a number of “yes” and “no” questions in the free NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Assessment Tool, to see where their community rates overall in fire and life safety. This tool can help shine a light on the fire and life safety health of a community and where improvements can be made, which is important to officials. Electrical inspectors can also get involved by volunteering on electrical boards of appeals, state boards, code committees, or by attending local inspector group meetings. Local communities that don’t keep the code promulgation process moving towards the latest NEC can easily get left behind, potentially elevating safety risks within their communities. So don’t sit on the sidelines; learn ways to get involved in the process and help stakeholders understand the value of using the latest edition of the NEC. Find more NFPA resources and information related to electrical inspections at

Using Residential Electrical Service Inspections as Valuable Teaching Moments

As a licensed electrician working on residential and commercial jobs for 16 years, the transition to electrical inspector has been challenging. One of the biggest reasons was that as an inspector I had to remember that just because I wouldn’t have done the installation a particular way didn’t make it non-compliant; the installer may have just used a different method. I continued as an electrical inspector for 18 years with six of those being Chief of the Electrical Division at the State of Michigan. In those years as an inspector one of the most memorable things I was taught was: “The Code isn’t what you think it says, it is what it says - so read it again.” That taught me to not trust my memory, but to verify what the applicable code stated. This helped me properly apply the code so that a correct determination of approval or denial could be made for the installation. NFPA has a white paper for conducting residential electrical inspections that can help electrical inspectors’ conducting residential inspections by providing organization methods for the inspection process. Having this type of resource when I started would have been an invaluable addition to the hands-on training I received. And while inspectors around the world might not use all the information within the white paper, they may be able to use some of the concepts in it to create their own processes tailored to their area of inspection. Another struggle was understanding why some installers were nervous or anxious when inspections were conducted. Until I realized an inspection is equivalent to a teacher grading a paper (any student dislikes getting answers wrong) and it stresses them out when they do. Inspectors, like a teacher, grade (inspect) electrical installations and sometimes find things that are not compliant with the applicable version of the NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), or local residential code, as some states may enforce a separate residential code for one- and two-family dwellings. Residential dwellings are some of the most common buildings inspected. They may be one- and two-family or multi-family dwellings. How these buildings are constructed or inspected depends on where you are in the world, but most likely will have the same types of inspections, service, rough and final. To prepare, an inspector should first verify which cycle of the NEC is being enforced for the project and if there are any local amendments to the NEC. This starts you off in the right direction. Usually, the first inspection on a new permanent residential structure is the electrical service. The inspector should gather information from the installer about plan review, if required, and the amps interrupting current (AIC) that is provided by utility since most residential main breakers only have a 10K rating. Having that information will make the inspection more efficient when looking at the following parts of the service: Service Point location Overhead or Underground service Raceway or Service Entrance (SE) cable Emergency disconnect requirements (new to the 2020 NEC) Electrical Panel Location Panel clearances This list is not all inclusive, but a high-level overview of information that may make for an accurate inspection. Inspectors will also be looking at conductor material, conductor size, intersystem bonding terminal location, and complete grounding electrode system. Sometimes there are violations and those may include service too small, undersized service conductors (ampacity) serving the main breaker, improper cable entries, lack of securing and supporting on raceways and cables, just to name a few. So how does the inspector inform the installer something requires correction or that the installation is approved? Frequently by providing feedback to installers in one of two ways: through written violations that clearly state the code section, area of the violation, and any other clear and concise notes that pertain to the inspection, or through approval stickers indicating the installation is compliant Often violation notices are interpreted to mean the installation was a complete failure, when in fact it might just be a simple fix like a conduit or cable support. Over time I learned I was most effective when installers gave me feedback and we discussed the code sections in question. It helped alleviate stress on the installer and it helped me grow as an inspector. A good rule of thumb for me was my belief that a violation notice was a teaching opportunity for everyone and that it could help eliminate future violations by the installer. The ability to effectively communicate inspection results is an important skill to have as an inspector. How we communicate notices influences how they are received. So be a teacher! Finally, another valuable resource for inspectors is NFPA’s LiNK® which gives you access to all NFPA codes and standards in one place – at your fingertips. As an inspector you can share code sections with non-members (limited time access) and can be useful when discussing code violations from inspections. Within LiNK you also will be able to look up DiRECT® situations that are built around regular installations, like wiring in residential attics, basements, and kitchens. LiNK is now accessible offline and has enhanced content available for the 2017 and 2020 versions of the NEC. Learn more about NFPA LiNK by visiting the website.
Hot tub

During the Fall and Winter Months, Keep Home Electrical Safety in Mind When Using Hot Tubs and Spas

With the cooler weather upon us as we head into November, many of us will be thinking about using our hot tubs more frequently. You may be thinking your hot tub is in the same condition as the last time you used it. But are you sure? It’s important to remember that time and weather can affect a hot tub’s performance. A very well-known fact is time ages everything, including hot tubs, no matter if they are installed indoors or out. Hot tubs get old and the internal equipment may stop working. Outdoor hot tub installations have an added challenge of being exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light and other element’s including rain and snow. UV light is known to increase the aging process on exposed non-metallic electrical equipment associated with the hot tub while rain and snow affect the metallic components. Other influencers that increase the decay of hot tub equipment is the chlorine or bromine in the water that can cause corrosion in or on metal motor parts, electrical equipment, electrical terminals, and electrical conductors. So, when was the last time you inspected the motor, terminations, bonding connections, or tested the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection? You may be thinking, I didn’t know I needed to check my tub in this way. Why do I have to check that stuff? But remember time and weather have adverse impact on all things, especially hot tubs and associated electrical equipment. Because corrosion may cause malfunctions in electronic components within the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), section 680.44 required GFCI breakers, and they should be tested regularly according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Those instructions also cover the approved method for testing the GFCI breaker. These are simple and easy tests that homeowners can do to determine if the hot tub is safe. The usual test method includes: Push the colored test button on the breaker body which should move the breaker handle to the middle position. If the handle doesn’t move, or trip, contact a qualified electrician to replace the GFCI breaker. A breaker handle that does move to the middle position is correctly operating. Reset the GFCI breaker by rotating the handle completely to the “off” position and then rotate back to the “on” position. A properly functioning GFCI breaker can prevent high leakage current into the hot tub water that could result in an unfortunate electrical shock drowning (ESD) incident. Terminations are another critical component of the electrical equipment installation. The NEC®, section 110.14, requires all conductors to be torqued tight in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions and not the ole tight as I can make it method. To check the terminations, you must remove the access panel cover on the hot tub skirting and look inside to see the wires landed on the exposed terminals, such as the bonding terminal, which is frequently found on the exterior of the hot tub’s control box. If there is a bonding conductor installed under the perimeter surface this is where it would be terminated. Look to see if there is greenish colored corrosion around the terminal and the copper conductor. Any corrosion around a terminal or conductor can interfere with the performance of that bonding system and should have maintenance done to remove the corrosion. Other terminations that should be inspected periodically by a qualified electrician are within the hot tub disconnect, hot tub control box, and service or feeder panel. Typically, hot tubs are installed utilizing non-metallic conduits because of their corrosion resistance, but those raceways are not immune to the effects of UV light and may become brittle, breaking down over time. Inspect these components for cracks, separation, broken supports, and any exposed wiring that looks out of place. As a homeowner, if you do run across any breakdown in the wiring methods used to energize your hot tub, or if you’re unsure about any of these inspection points, contact a qualified electrician to conduct the appropriate inspections and/or make the necessary repairs. Failure to do so could result in a malfunction of a necessary component and cause a shock or ground-fault. Hot tubs are a great place to relax and unwind if they are kept in good repair. Remember to test your GFCI protection and keep an eye on the other components for deterioration. Delaying maintenance could be a bigger problem in the end. For more information and resources about hot tub and spa safety, visit the NFPA electrical safety around water web page.

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