The North American electrical safety system relies heavily on three key components: installation codes, product safety standards and compliance inspection. One of the most important objectives for electrical contractors—aside from getting paid—is attaining Code compliance and final approval. Let’s take a look at some key factors related to attaining approvals in the electrical field and who is involved.
A critical element of knowing how to properly apply codes and standards is understanding defined terms that appear with the contained rules. Since this article focuses on approvals, a review of the definition is in order.
In the National Electrical Code, the word “approved” is simply defined as “acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction.” The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is typically the building official of the jurisdiction who deputizes field inspectors to issue approvals during inspection processes. Note that other codes and standards may define and use the term “approved” differently.
The NEC clearly outlines the responsibilities of the AHJ in Section 90.4, which simply indicates that the AHJ has the responsibility for interpreting the Code rules and issuing approvals. The AHJ is also responsible for granting special permission. Special permission is typically handled by jurisdictions through a variance or modification process, but it usually is formal and in writing. Special permission is defined by the NEC in Article 100 as the written consent of the AHJ.
Section 110.2 outlines the foundation of the approval process by indicating that conductors and equipment required or permitted by the NEC are acceptable only if approved. This requirement places the responsibility of the approving process squarely on the shoulders of the AHJ.
Inspectors have the authority to approve any installation and use any criteria as the basis for such. In exercising the approving authority and responsibility, the AHJ (inspectors) typically rely on additional processes and entities to include in the approval process such as listed and identified products from a qualified electrical testing laboratory as addressed in Section 90.7.
Product certification and testing labs
The NEC and other codes currently use the terms “listed” and “listing.” The more appropriate and accurate terminology is “product certification,” which includes processes used by qualified electrical testing laboratories to determine if products meet or exceed established product safety standards. Section 90.7 includes criteria that relates to examination of equipment for safety. This includes, but is not limited to, examination, identification, installation and use of equipment.
Section 90.7 indicates that qualified electrical testing laboratories are often retained to evaluate and list (certify) equipment as meeting or exceeding applicable product safety standards. The evaluation, testing and so forth is typically performed under controlled conditions in laboratories equipped to do so. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration maintains a recognized list of national (qualified) electrical testing laboratories. Many jurisdictions use this list for consistency and to avoid being accused of being exclusive or discriminatory.
The NEC does not globally require that all equipment be certified (listed). There are some specific rules that do require certain wiring methods and materials to be certified (listed), but such a requirement will usually be contained within the specific rule applicable to the equipment and installation.
“Listed” has been in the codes for a long time. The term is related to a “list” of manufacturers that have achieved recognition by a qualified electrical testing laboratory as manufacturing products that meet applicable safety standards. Recognized manufacturers have the responsibility to provide a certification mark, which could be a label, engraving, molding, etc. The mark conveys evidence of compliance with safety standards beyond the NEC .
When equipment is installed, the certification (listing) mark is often, but not always, relied on as a basis for AHJ approval. Remember, the AHJ can approve any installation, and they often have to use much more criteria to determine compliance and ultimately issue approvals. The NEC requirements and the suitability of certified (listed) products have to be verified and carefully considered by the (AHJ) inspector in the field when fulfilling their approving duties.
How a product is installed and used is key to determining eligibility for AHJ approval. Section 110.3(B) has long-standing, clear language indicating that listed or labeled products be installed in accordance with any instructions. Following installation instructions is huge when trying to achieve approval. Do not underestimate the importance of field inspections to verify Code compliance of all equipment and installations.Header image by Shutterstock / AIWD.
About The Author
JOHNSTON is NECA’s executive director of codes and standards. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NFPA Standards Council, IBEW, UL Electrical Council and NFPA’s Electrical Section. Reach him at [email protected].