Approval Factors

Published On
Mar 15, 2016

In the construction industry, one of the important objectives of contractors and the construction team—aside from being paid for the job—is attaining National Electrical Code (NEC) compliance and final approval. In the electrical field, some key factors relate to achieving this ultimate goal. Let’s look at the parties involved and what it takes to attain approvals.


A critical element of properly applying codes and standards is to understand defined terms that appear with the contained rules. The NEC defines “approved” as “acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction [AHJ].” The AHJ is typically the jurisdiction’s building official who deputizes field inspectors to issue approvals during inspection processes. Note that other codes and standards may define and use the term “approved” differently.


In Section 90.4, the NEC clearly outlines the AHJ’s duties, indicating that the AHJ has the responsibility for interpreting the Code rules and issuing approvals. Another element of the approval process is the granting of special permission, which is also the AHJ’s responsibility. Jurisdictions typically handle special permission through a variance or modification process, but it is usually formal and in writing. In Article 100, the NEC defines special permission as the AHJ’s written consent.


Section 110.2 outlines the approval-process foundation by indicating that required or permitted conductors and equipment are acceptable only with AHJ approval. Inspectors have the authority to use any criteria as the basis for their approvals. In exercising the approving authority and responsibility, the AHJ typically relies on additional processes and entities, such as listed and identified products from a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL), to include in the approval process.


The NEC and other codes use the terms “listed” and “listing,” but the more appropriate and accurate terminology is “product certification,” in which qualified electrical testing laboratories determine if products meet or exceed established product safety standards. Section 90.7 includes safety equipment examination criteria. This includes, but is not limited to, equipment examination, identification, installation and use.


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 are typically performed under controlled conditions in laboratories that are equipped to do so. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a list of qualified electrical testing laboratories. Many jurisdictions use this list for consistency and to avoid accusations of being exclusive or discriminatory.


The NEC does not require all equipment to be certified (listed). Some specific rules require certain wiring methods and materials to be certified, but such a requirement will usually be contained within the rule that is applicable to the equipment and installation.


The term “listed” has been in the codes for a long time. It should be understood that it is generally related to a “list” of manufacturers that have achieved recognition by a qualified electrical testing laboratory as capable of manufacturing products that meet applicable safety standards. The recognized manufacturers of such products have the responsibility for bestowing the product with a certification mark, which could be in the form of a label, engraving, molding, etc. This mark conveys evidence and assurances of compliance with applicable safety standards beyond the NEC.


When equipment is installed, AHJs often, but not always, rely on the certification (listing) mark as a basis for approval. However, AHJs can approve any installation, and they often use many more criteria to determine compliance and issue approvals. When fulfilling approving duties, the inspector in the field must carefully consider NEC requirements and the suitability of certified (listed) products.


Usage is one of the most important factors in certified equipment installation and approval. How a product is installed and used is key to determining eligibility for AHJ approval. Section 110.3(B) has longstanding clear language that indicates listed or labeled equipment must be installed in accordance with any instructions. Sometimes, an equipment label provides the instructions, and the equipment often includes separate instructions. Following installation instructions is vital when seeking approval. While a product may bear a certification mark, its suitability for a particular application may be in question. The importance of field inspections to verify Code compliance must not be underestimated.


For compliance, the electrical safety system in North America relies heavily on installation codes, product safety standards and inspection. Qualified electrical contractors and workers are an equally important component in the safety system.

About the Author

Michael Johnston

Executive Director of Standards and Safety, NECA

Michael Johnston is NECA’s executive director of standards and safety. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NFPA Standards Council, IBEW, UL Electrical Council and NFPA’s Electrical Section. Reach him at mj@necanet.org.

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