Inside a bright red cover—in keeping with this gift-giving season—is a beautiful present from the National Fire Protection Association for every electrical contractor engaged in service and maintenance business.
It’s the thoroughly revamped NFPA publication devoted to electrical equipment maintenance, better known as 70B.
Up to now, NFPA 70B has been all about recommended practices, that is, nonmandatory suggestions. Starting in 2023, however, 70B will become a standard. Its provisions will become mandatory. As a standard, NFPA 70B will drive new service and maintenance opportunities!
Many have been guilty of saying “codes and standards” without giving much thought to their distinction. In NFPA parlance, there are important differences.
To understand this best, we visited Kiley Taylor, an expert on electrical systems maintenance who worked on recasting NFPA 70B.
Taylor began his career as an IBEW electrician. Today, he is an electrical engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), overseeing and managing the electrical maintenance program at NREL’s expansive campuses in Golden, Colo. We started with a leading question for him about the history of NFPA 70B.
Although it’s been less well-known than NFPA 70E, the NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is not a newborn addition to the family.
That’s correct. The first edition of 70B came out in 1975. It’s been revised 15 times since then. The most recent edition—as a recommended practice—was published in 2019.
Take us through the differences in levels of these publications.
The NFPA recognizes four distinct writing styles, starting with a guide. A guide has advisory or informative language on a particular subject. A recommended practice is the next level up. It will have a mix of explanatory language and suggested recommendations using verbs like “should” or “should not.” The next level is a standard. Its dictates are 100% mandatory, using verbs like “shall” or “shall not.” The main body of a standard contains only strictly prescriptive language, but it may have an annex in its back pages containing common language explanations of certain issues. The top-most level is a code. Its language is even more prescriptive than a standard.
From its beginning in 1975, NFPA 70B has been categorized as a recommended practice, one level up from a guide.
That’s right. It has, for example, always used the verb “should” (or “should not”) when recommending some aspect of maintaining electrical equipment. But its recommendations have always been understood to be nonmandatory.
The newly revised NFPA 70B that we will start to see in 2023, however, will rise to the next higher level of diction. Its provisions will be mandatory.
We’ve already pointed out that codes are quite different from standards. NFPA 70 is the National Electrical Code, which is adopted as a matter of law in state and local jurisdictions throughout the country.
That’s what clearly sets it apart. A code uses stronger, even more decisive language, notably sharing the uncompromising words “shall” or “shall not. It is 100% mandatory.
Even though code provisions become a matter of law—just like highway speed limits—people violate them. You can never legislate perfect behavior in any walk of life.
That is true. I do a lot of training on professional approaches to electrical maintenance all across the country. From that experience, I believe the best solution is for electrical contractors to invest in the education and training of their service electricians on NFPA 70B. If those service and maintenance electricians are equipped to explain this newly revised standard to customers, they will be more inclined to embrace it.
Rather than “train the trainer,” you’re suggesting that we “train the explainer?”
Exactly. This is a great opportunity to invest in your company by arming those front-line electricians and technicians with good, solid knowledge of NFPA 70B. They are the face of your company in the eyes of your clients. They are the ones who get called with questions, are trusted for their answers and become your customers’ “go-to” advisers. Here is one of those rare chances to get an early lead on your competition.
About The Author
MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].