Study Finds States Fail to Adopt Latest NEC, and It May Have Serious Consequences

A new report from the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, titled "Falling Behind on Electrical Safety," states that, between 2010 and 2014, an average of over 61,000 fires in the U.S. were attributed to electrical failures or malfunctions, resulting in over $2 billion in losses and the loss of 432 lives—each year.

The report suggests that one significant cause of these electrical-related fires was the fact that a number of states fail to promptly adopt, or even adopt at all, the latest edition of NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code (NEC). According to the report, approximately one-third of states in the nation skip one or more NEC updates, and other states amend the latest edition of Code to remove certain safety requirements.

"Not adhering to the latest edition can lead to serious shortfalls in electrical safety for citizens and a failure to protect first responders and workers from preventable dangers," states the report.

The report notes that common reasons for the failure of states to stay current with the latest NEC editions include political pressure on, and subsequent involvement of, state legislators; increased scrutiny of regulatory activities by jurisdictions; consideration only of cost without consideration of benefits; and less independence for appointed experts within the jurisdictions who are involved in code adoption activities.

The graph shows the length of time, in months, from publication of the updated version of the NEC to its effective date by state for the last four versions of the NEC.  The five states at the top of the graph are the promptest adopters; the five states at the bottom are the slowest adopters.
The graph shows the length of time, in months, from publication of the updated version of the NEC to its effective date by state for the last four versions of the NEC. The five states at the top of the graph are the promptest adopters; the five states at the bottom are the slowest adopters. Courtesy of the NFPA

Besides loss of property and life, there are other negative consequences to the failure of states and other jurisdictions to adopt the latest NEC, according to Michael Johnston, NECA's executive director, standards and safety. For example, there can be financial consequences for consumers related to what they pay for insurance.

"What drives this is the Insurance Services Organization, which rates jurisdictions on whether they use the latest edition of the NEC or not," he said.

Those that don't adopt it end up with lower ratings from the Insurance Services Organization, which ends up leading to higher insurance costs for consumers in those jurisdictions.

"You won't hear politicians talking about that, though, because they are being pressured by homebuilder associations, who want to keep costs low," Johnston said.

Jurisdictions themselves can also end up at a disadvantage if they fail to adopt the latest editions of the NEC. For, example, they will be unable to correctly and comprehensively inspect the newest technologies being installed in their jurisdictions, such as large-scale storage systems, large-scale photovoltaic systems, microgrids, etc.

"If they aren't up to date on the latest NEC, they simply won't know the rules that need to be enforced," Johnston said.

According to Johnston, NECA's position is that NEC is the minimum requirement, because the Code is developed through consensus, and it is well-substantiated.

"It is a standing policy for NECA members to support and abide by the latest edition of the NEC," he said. "This isn't your grandfather's Code anymore. There are so many new things in the Code because of new technologies, and everyone needs to stay up to date on these."

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