Staying Current with the NEC: Jurisdictions leave themselves at risk below the minimum standards

The National Electrical Code adoption process is continuously active. Jurisdictions that adopt and use the latest edition of the NEC have the benefits of a Code that has been developed and maintained by qualified technical committees through an open consensus process.

Jurisdictions usually adopt the NEC through a process that makes it law. Where the NEC is adopted legally, anything less is illegal. That is an interesting way of looking at it, and it usually holds up in court.

Often, jurisdictions adopt the NEC without amendments because it places trust in the NFPA’s open consensus Code -development process. Some jurisdictions adopt the  Code  with a few local amendments to the minimum outlined in the  NEC . Modifications may be necessary because of unique conditions and are usually more restrictive for justifiable and defendable reasons. However, alterations to electrical installation rules that lessen established national minimum requirements can present liabilities and result in less protection for people and property. The public voice is seldom ever heard or considered in a Code adoption processes. Consumers and the unsuspecting public expect their electrical systems to work safely. Adopting jurisdictions have safety in the forefront, or at least they should.

Section 90.1 of the NEC , the first rule, indicates that the purpose of the Code is the practical safeguarding of people and property from hazards arising from electricity use. Compliance with the NEC rules results in electrical installations and systems that are essentially safe, free from hazards. The NEC is the minimum set of rules that must be followed for compliance, and ensures that occupancies are safe from potential electrical hazards. Consumers expect electrical safety, even when they are not aware of the rules that make residences and other occupancies safe. Jurisdictions should always treat the purpose of the NEC with the highest regard of importance and value.

Electrical safety should not be compromised by efforts to circumvent NEC adoption by jurisdictions. The risk management departments of inspection jurisdictions strongly advise against compromising the minimum requirements of national standards that they adopt, especially when the reasons are not safety-driven and are usually not defendable. Often the risk-management departments are unaware of this type of activity. As safety requirements change, so does the cost of doing business. Successful and reputable organizations understand this concept and know the marketing benefits as well.

Here is something to think about. When the cost of building materials increases, does the cost typically get passed on to the customer? I think so. Yet, when the cost of building materials decreases, does the customer see these discounts? I do not believe they do. Organizations that are proactive and proficient in business understand the value of keeping current with the latest safety requirements that ultimately affect consumers.

When the NEC is adopted into law and enforced, the ultimate beneficiary is the public. Deletion of any requirements from the Code in the adoption process results in a compromise to already established minimums. It is risky business to selectively choose to delete new Code requirements based on costs or other reasons that are not safety-related. This results in a compromise in the integrity of the Code . The benefits of improved protection far outweigh the minimal additional cost to meet the new or changing electrical Code rules.

No compromise

The NEC technical committees have a big responsibility to act in the interest of safety and the best interest of protecting people and property. The result is a Code that is available for adoption and enforcement by building departments and that has the integrity of the most extensive and fair development process in the world. The NEC and the electrical safety it provides should not be compromised by selective adoption. The  NEC ’s integrity has to be upheld without compromise to result in electrical safety within the home and beyond.

New and revised rules in the Code will require more GFCI protection, expanded arc-fault circuit interrupter protection, and enhanced protection for unsuspecting children from shock and electrocution hazards at receptacles. Some efforts to circumvent these new requirements are ongoing and should be carefully considered by Code adoption authorities. There are risks in operating below the minimum electrical safety rules. Subtle reminders through unpleasant statistics are readily available.

The minimum requirements for electrical safety are compromised when local adoption processes delete rules selectively and without reasonable substantiation. There should always be justifiable reasons to reduce the requirements of already established minimums. Consumers deserve responsible leadership in carrying out adoption processes—with the public interests and safety as priorities.

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 chair of the NEC Correlating Committee; chair of the NFPA Electrical Section; and a member of the IBEW, NFPA Education Section and the UL Electrical Council. Reach him at mj...

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