Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on May 1, 2018.

Falling Behind

A new report details the decline of electrical safety brought on by lax state adoption policies


Electrical safety is being neglected nationwide, in part through a failure of states to adopt up-to-date codes or by legislative action that weakens existing codes such as the National Electrical Code® (NEC®).

That’s a key conclusion of “Falling Behind on Electrical Safety: Wide Variations in State Adoptions of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety,” a report released in March by NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute.

That same month, for example, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill amending the state’s electrical code that makes it easier for electricians to remove ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), safety devices that quickly shut off electricity in the event of a ground fault. Jared Carpenter, a facility manager in Kentucky and a Republican state senator, supported the proposal, describing GFCIs as more of a nuisance than a life-saving technology.

“In our apartments, [tenants] will call us and say … ‘Jared, I plugged in my curling iron and my lights are not working now,’ and so I go over there and it’s a ground fault breaker,” he said during a floor debate on the bill. “[GFCIs] don’t work well, Mr. President, that’s the reason for this bill. It’s not about saving lives. … There’s nothing in this bill that’s going to be a detriment to safety.”

The senator’s claims didn’t sit well with Meghan Housewright, director of the Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, who in a blog post called it “a perfect and unfortunate example of politicians’ lack of education on codes leading to decisions with real safety consequences.”

Based on interviews with experts on electrical safety policy at the state level and a review of NEC adoption data, the “Falling Behind” report points to factors like legislators’ lack of electrical safety knowledge and the pressure to trim budgets as reasons why full and up-to-date NEC adoption isn’t often realized in the United States. It also provides policymakers with recommendations on how to start changing this, such as heeding the advice of experts when making legislative decisions on electrical safety.

“States where electrical boards are responsible for adoption tend to act more quickly to adopt updates,” the report reads. For example, of the states that have a dedicated board of electrical safety experts responsible for code adoption, only two have skipped an NEC update over the last three cycles (2008, 2011, and 2014), compared to 11 states in which there isn’t a dedicated electrical board, according to the report. Likewise, on average, states without boards took over a year longer to adopt the updated NEC.

As shown by the interviews conducted by the Policy Institute, a dedicated electrical board can provide a state with a group of staunch proponents of electrical safety who are there to educate and influence legislators. “My goals were to get [the NEC] adopted without amendment,” one interviewee and former state board member told researchers. “Some things I agreed to amend, but only when they [were] stricter than the code.”

Overall, the recommendations outlined in the report are meant to help policymakers meet the expectations of their constituents. In a prior survey commissioned by the Policy Institute, over 80 percent of U.S. residents polled felt legislators should prioritize ensuring electrical and fire safety codes are up-to-date, and 86 percent believed that if they purchased a newly built home, it would meet the most up-to-date codes.

To read the full NFPA Policy Institute report online.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: iStock