Finding Your Way Through Consensus Standards

By Joe O'Connor | Nov 15, 2007




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Navigating standards that affect the electrical industry can seem like traveling through a maze with no start or end point. Entry to the maze can occur through any number of standards, including regulations set by government. The key is to understand the purpose of each standard and the relationships between them. Just to make things clear, this article begins with the mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and ends with the National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS) developed by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

Created in 1970, one of OSHA’s roles was to establish safety and health standards. Faced with this overwhelming task, OSHA often turned to national consensus standards. A national consensus standard is defined as “a standard that is developed by the same persons it affects and then is adopted by a nationally recognized organization.” Select consensus standards were incorporated by reference into various OSHA regulations. This means a standard identified as such in a given OSHA standard has the same force and effect as any other regulation. Provisions containing the word “shall” or other mandatory language are requirements for which an employer can be cited.

OSHA also may offer a national consensus standard as a guideline. When listed in a regulation in this manner, OSHA acknowledges there may be other means of compliance. The focus of any citations issued would be on the language offered in the OSHA standard, not the consensus standard. The consensus standard merely offers proof that procedures exist for compliance.

Interestingly enough, the concept of a national consensus standard offering a means of protection can be used, even when the standard is not listed. For example, OSHA has cited employers using the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. It identifies a means for protecting employees from arc flashes. OSHA cited the employer under the General Duty Clause 5(a)1, which states an employer “shall furnish to its employees, employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” and justified it using NFPA 70E.

Organizations that have standards incorporated by reference or that otherwise affect safety compliance for an electrical contractor include the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The requirements set by these organizations address equipment, practices and workplace conditions. They have a major impact on how electrical work must be performed. Of course, OSHA isn’t the only organizations to use standards, such as NFPA 70 and the National Electrical Code (NEC). State and local governements also incorporated them into building codes.

The NEC has set requirements for safe electrical installations since 1897. NFPA’s committee develops, updates and publishes the NEC every three years. The committee consists of 20 Code-Making Panels and a Technical Correlating Committee. Approval for the final standard comes from ANSI. Its formal name is ANSI/NFPA 70.

The NEC consists of an introduction, nine chapters, annexes A through G and an index. The introduction includes the purpose, scope, enforcement and rules. The first four chapters cover definitions and rules for installations (voltages, connections, markings, etc), circuits and circuit protection, methods and materials for wiring (wiring devices, conductors, cables, etc.), and general-purpose equipment (cords, receptacles, switches, heaters, etc.). The following three chapters address special occupancies, specific equipment and special conditions. Chapter 8 covers communications systems, and Chapter 9 is composed of 10 tables regarding conductor, cable and conduit properties. Annexes A–G offer references, calculations, examples, etc.

The most recent edition of the NEC is the 2008 version, published in September 2007. However, most states typically adopt the latest edition of the NEC within a couple of years of its publication. A jurisdiction may modify some sections, but individuals and local jurisdictions can be sued for negligently creating a situation that results in loss of life or property. As a result, the NEC has become the de facto standard for electrical installations. Following the most recent edition is best. No court has faulted anyone for using the latest version of the NEC, even if the local code had not been updated.

The NEC does not address employee safety. It is an electrical installation standard only. To deal with this problem, NFPA created the Committee on Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces—NFPA 70E to develop electrical safety standards that would serve the needs of OSHA. The committee reports through the NEC technical committee. The first edition of NFPA 70E was published in 1979. Over time, the standard has developed into a comprehensive guide to electrical safety issues from safety-related work practices to maintenance, special equipment requirements and installation.

The 2004 edition of 70E consists of an introduction, four chapters and 13 annexes. Chapter 1—“Safety-Related Work Practices”—is the heart of the standard. It identifies the training requirements for qualified and unqualified persons, and it requires an electrical safety program, electrical hazard analysis for shock and arc flash, energized electrical work permits, and lockout/tagout procedures. It establishes approach boundaries and includes procedures and tables for selecting the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and protective clothing. Chapter 2 is “Safety-Related Maintenance Requirements.” It mandates that electrical components, wiring and equipment be maintained in a safe condition. Chapter 3, “Safety Requirements for Special Equipment,” covers batteries, lasers and power electronic equipment. Chapter 4, “Installation Safety Requirements,” appears to be a condensed version of the NEC.

NFPA 70E is currently at the end of its next revision cycle; the next edition will be available in 2009. Proposed changes have been made and comments received. These include mandates for retraining every three years, a set schedule for updating the employer’s arc flash analysis and a requirement for employers to perform calculations for determining arc flash and protection rather than relying on tables. A significant change in the scope of the standard has been proposed. Currently, NFPA 70E does not apply to electric utility installations. The proposal calls for the removal of this exemption. This has met with much resistance, since the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) covers electric utility installations.

The NESC is the industry-accepted safety standard for overhead and underground electric utility and communications utility installations. It is adopted by most states and Public Service Commissions. The NESC covers the safeguarding of people from hazards arising from the installation, operation or maintenance. It applies to conductors and equipment in electric supply stations, overhead and underground electric supply, and communication lines. It also includes work rules for the construction, maintenance and operation of these systems regardless of whether owned and operated by a utility or an industrial establishment. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publishes it, and the IEEE released the 2007 edition in August 2006. The next revision is scheduled for release in 2012.

The most significant electrical equipment specifications are managed by the ASTM F18 Committee on Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers. The committee, created in 1974, meets twice a year and has a membership of more than 210 with jurisdiction over 38-plus standards. These standards include F18.15 Worker Personal Equipment, F18.25 Insulating Cover-Up Equipment, F18.35 Tools & Equipment, F18.45 Mechanical Apparatus, F18.55 Inspection and Non-Destructive Test Methods for Aerial Devices, and F18.65 Wearing Apparel. All standards are published in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards.

In addition to the consensus standards noted here, which are directly or indirectly mandated by government authority, there are voluntary standards that are meant to go beyond minimum requirements. The NEIS, which NECA develops, are performance standards for electrical construction. They help define what is meant to perform installations in a “neat and workmanlike” manner. ANSI serves as the approving body for all NEIS. Although they are not mandated, they can serve as an enforceable part of the contract documents. NEIS cover workmanship, symbols for drawings and set standards for installations of a wide range of equipment to ensure customers get a top-quality job.

All together, these standards offer a comprehensive guide to a safe quality installation of electrical equipment and service. Each standard should be consulted for the operation at hand. The OSHA standards can be found on its Web site, The best place to get a copy of a national consensus standard is usually through the sponsoring organization. NFPA consensus standards are available for purchase at NFPA also provides publications that offer detailed explanations of the standard. Likewise, the other standards can be accessed via the ASTM (, IEEE ( and NECA ( Web sites. Any standards incorporated by reference must be made available through OSHA. Standards can be viewed at the OSHA Office, U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building in Washington, D.C., or the OSHA regional and field offices, which are listed in the U.S. Government Manual or on the OSHA Web site. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected].



About The Author

Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected]

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