Published In January 2001
The National Electrical Code (NEC) enjoys the reputation of being the most widely accepted standard in the world. The document is intended to provide for the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards associated with electrical installations. Towards this end, it is often noted that it is a “minimum” installation standard in the sense that it contains provisions that “will result in an installation that is essentially free from hazard but not necessarily efficient, convenient, or adequate for good service or future expansion of electrical use.” To some extent, this may be problematic. One would think that an installation made in compliance with the NEC ought to ensure adequacy and be free from, rather than essentially free from, hazard. Of course, that simply isn’t possible. Another issue that requires consideration to ensure adequacy is the enforcement and administration of the NEC. No matter how adequate the provisions are, the administration of the Code and its enforcement will dictate the overall safety of the electrical installation. Background Despite its dominance as the electrical code, the NEC has, for a number of years, lacked an effective and comprehensive set of rules for its proper administration and enforcement. Historically, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has relied on a rather obscure document, NFPA 70L, Administrative Rules, for an approach to the enforcement and administration of the NEC. This document went out of print in 1987 and since then, local municipalities, cities, states, and other governmental agencies that sought adoption of the NEC were left to develop their own guidelines for administering and enforcing the Code. 2002 NEC proposal Code-Making Panel 1 has accepted a proposal for the 2002 NEC that will close this void. Proposal 1-5 is a new proposed Article 80 of the NEC entitled “Administration and Enforcement.” This article contains a comprehensive set of provisions intended to “provide requirements for administration and enforcement of the National Electrical Code.” Administration The new proposed article contains several major provisions for both administration and enforcement of the NEC. With regards to administration, the article develops guidelines for applying the Code, developing an electrical board, and issuing permits. Section 80-9 covers the application of the Code and establishes application provisions for new and existing installations and for additions, alterations, and repairs to existing buildings. A most significant provision of this section is 80-9(b), which states, “(E)xisting electrical installations that do not comply with the provisions of this Code shall be permitted to be continued in use unless the authority having jurisdiction determines that the lack of conformity with this Code presents an imminent danger to occupants.” Frequently, local jurisdictions and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) struggle to deal with this question. This section is intended to provide a means to ensure that the public is not placed at risk from an existing electrical installation. Similarly, Section 80-9(c) covers provisions for additions or alterations to existing installations. Again, the AHJ is often placed in a difficult position in determining what impact a proposed electrical modification to a building may have, based upon the conditions of the existing installation. Without requiring retroactivity, this section will require that all “(A)dditions, alterations, installations, or repairs shall not cause an existing building to become unsafe or adversely affect the performance of the building as determined by the authority having jurisdiction.” This should provide the AHJ with a means to “reach” beyond the scope of the permit that was pulled by the electrical contractor in cases where they believe the proposed modification could have an adverse impact on the existing electrical system. Section 80-15 contains another key provision of the article, which provides for the establishment of an electrical board. Guidelines for determining the duties of the board, membership selection, and responsibilities are included. The board, once established, becomes the controlling entity responsible for compliance with the Code. Many communities have no electrical board and this can have significant impact for electrical contractors and for the entire electrical industry within the community. Enforcement The foundation for good electrical enforcement begins with a comprehensive system for reviewing, issuing, and administering electrical permits. Section 80-19 establishes this system and provides guidance for issuing permits. The section includes exceptions that might be considered outside the scope of the permit system and the means by which a permit may be obtained. Contractors have the option of pulling individual permits for each project or applying for an annual permit. Once the permit system is in place, means must be established for conducting electrical inspections. Section 80-19(f) requires “(U)pon the completion of any installation of electrical equipment which has been made under a permit other than an annual permit, it shall be the duty of the person, firm or corporation making the installation to notify the Electrical Inspector having jurisdiction, who shall inspect the work within a reasonable time.” Clearly, the contractor is responsible for notifying the electrical inspector and obtaining an inspection. The section also requires the electrical inspector, at regular intervals, to “visit all buildings and premises where work may be done under annual permits and shall inspect all electric equipment installed under such permits since the date of the previous inspection.” Article 80 includes all of the necessary provisions to ensure that electrical inspections are conducted fairly and effectively. Provisions for assessing violations, penalties, abatement, and compliance with the Code are all included. Finally, the article also establishes criteria for assessing inspectors’ experience and qualifications, including certification and the requirements for maintaining it. Analysis The NEC can only be an effective standard when it is suitably administered and enforced. Proposed Article 80 is a comprehensive set of rules intended to provide the complete package to communities that want to take full advantage of the very best electrical standard available in the world today. One important point must be kept in mind: Article 80 is not mandatory. Section 80-5 clearly states “(A)rticle 80 shall not apply unless specifically adopted by the local jurisdiction adopting the National Electrical Code.” Communities wishing to implement administrative and enforcement provisions can adopt Article 80. Those, on the other hand, who already have adequate rules in place, can continue to adopt the NEC as they have in the past, without any unnecessary amendments. Requirements to provide for the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards of electrical installations are only half of the problem. Effective and efficient provisions for the administration and enforcement of the requirements is necessary to ensure that all electrical installations are designed, installed, and maintained as safely as possible. CALLANAN is director of Safety, Codes, & Standards at the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.