Unused Opening Citation, Tamper Resistance and More

Jim Dollard has an extensive background in codes and standards. If you have a query about the National Electrical Code (NEC) , Jim will help you solve it. Send questions to codefaqs@gmail.com. Answers are based on the 2017 NEC .

Unused openings

Last year, we received a serious OSHA citation when they observed a piece of duct tape covering an empty space in a temporary panelboard. In my 30 years of experience, I have seen this as a standard practice. It is my understanding that the NEC permits approved means to cover such openings. Our electrical inspector did not mention this is an NEC violation on this job or any other job he has inspected for us. What would an approved means be?

The requirement you are referring to is Section 408.7, Unused Openings. Where an unused opening exists, it must be closed to prevent contact with energized conductors or circuit parts. This NEC requirement recognizes identified closures, which would include blanks identified for the use provided by the panelboard manufacturer.

This requirement also recognizes “other approved means” that provide protection substantially equivalent to the enclosure wall. Duct tape would not provide protection that is substantially equivalent and would not be an approved means. There are only two feasible means to fill an unused opening in a panelboard. An identified blank from the manufacturer is one option. The most effective option is to install a spare circuit breaker.

It is important to note that an unused opening for a conduit or cable assembly will result in the same citation. In many jurisdictions, temporary power gets little attention from the electrical inspector. Unfortunately, many authorities having jurisdiction get so caught up in plan review, rough and final inspections they pay no attention to temporary power installations. In most cases, the service equipment is the only part of the temporary installation an electrical inspector will look at, because the utility will not energize the service until it is inspected.

It is imperative that ECs understand all of the applicable requirements for temporary power installations. As you note in your question, placing duct tape over an unused opening is something you have seen as commonplace over the last 30 years. We in the electrical industry make many mistakes in temporary power installations because of the “this is only temporary” mindset.

As of Jan. 2, 2018, the penalty for serious OSHA violations is $12,934. Once a serious citation is received and settled, the contractor enters a five-year window in which a similar citation will be considered as a “repeat or willful” violation with a penalty of $129,336. While a serious OSHA citation may seem expensive, it pales in comparison to increased cost of workers compensation premiums, which can put a contractor out of business. See the NECA Guide to Temporary Power, which provides installers with all the information needed to comply with OSHA and NEC requirements.

TR receptacles in restaurants?

Are tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles required in restaurants? During plan review, the inspector made notes on our drawings that reference 406.12(6), which requires TR receptacles in places of assembly. This does not specifically mention restaurants, although it does include other places of assembly.

No, 406.12(6) does not require TR receptacles to be installed in restaurants. The requirement specifically references a “subset of assembly occupancies described in 518.2 to include places of waiting transportation, gymnasiums, skating rinks and auditoriums.” It is important to note that the venues listed in 406.12(6) are a “subset” of the list contained in 518.2. A subset is a “part of a larger group of related things.” This text limits the requirement to the venues referenced only.

The NEC references lists in many different ways. If this requirement used text such as “including but not limited to,” restaurants would be included.

210.7 requirements

Where two separate 120-volt (V) branch circuits supply receptacles installed in the same enclosure, are we required to install handle ties so they can be opened at the same time? This came from an owner’s representative taking part in final inspections. I explained that these are individual branch circuits, not multiwire branch circuits.

No, handle ties are not required. See Section 210.7, which addresses two or more branch circuits that supply devices or equipment on the same yoke. This occurs where a single device such as a duplex receptacle is supplied by two separate branch circuits. In this case, the conductor tabs may be removed, and each contact device on the duplex receptacle is supplied from a different branch circuit. This is common where one contact device may be switched to supply lighting and the other is continuously powered to supply equipment. This requirement is safety driven and ensures a single throw will open both branch circuits to de-energize both contact devices on the duplex receptacle. The installation you describe is not addressed by 210.7 or 210.4(B), which address only multiwire branch circuits.

Laundry room

Is a receptacle supplying a clothes washer in a dwelling unit closet that contains no dryer or sink required to be ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected? The water supply and discharge are located in the wall above the washer. The homeowner uses this washer for arts and crafts, tie-dye shirts, etc. The home already has a laundry area with GFCI-protected receptacles.

Yes, the receptacle must be GFCI-protected as required in 210.8(A)(10). The 2017 NEC does not define “laundry area” as seen in the GFCI requirement in 210.8(A)(10). However, the word “laundry” implies a clothes washer and/or clothes dryer. See the first draft of the 2020 NEC, which includes a new definition of “Laundry Area” in Article 100 as follows: “An area containing or designed to contain a laundry tray, clothes washer, or clothes dryer.”

It is important to note that the proposed definition for the 2020 NEC will consider an area with just a clothes washer or just a clothes dryer as a “laundry area.”

Is structural steel tube a raceway?

Can lighting fixtures be installed on tubular structural steel members with individual conductors pulled through the tubular structural steel? The drawings specifically state we cannot run conduit or cable on the outside of the structural steel. The easiest way to get this done would be to enter the steel tube at the bottom with a junction box and bushing and pull conductors to the luminaire above and enter the luminaire from the steel tube.

No, single conductors are required by 300.3(A) to be installed as part of a recognized wiring method in Chapter 3 of the NEC . Structural steel tubing is not recognized in Chapter 3 as a raceway. There are many types of cable assemblies, such as Type MC, that could be used inside of the structural steel tubing to supply the luminaire above.

Raceway seals?

Are we required to put sealing-type caps on EMT terminations in the bottom of panel boards that are installed as spares? The inspector is requiring all spare conduits to have sealing-type fittings. This makes sense where conductors are underground or subject to dampness. This is the fourth-floor commercial tenant facility and is not subject to water, dampness or other conditions that may warrant a seal.

Raceway seals are not required for the EMT terminations as you described in your question. However, the NEC does contain multiple requirements for raceway seals. These include requirements for raceways with conductors and spare raceways. Sections 225.27 and 230.8 require seals where a raceway enters a building or structure from the outside. Section 300.5(G) is a general sealing requirement for underground raceways through which moisture may contact live parts. Section 300.7(A) requires seals were portions of a raceway or sleeve are subject to different temperatures and where condensation is known to be a problem.

Circuit breaker as a switch

We are installing large ceiling fans in a warehouse. Does the NEC permit us to use the circuit breaker supplying the fan as a switch to turn it on and off? This will occur on a daily basis. I know we can do that for lighting circuits, but I cannot locate anything that permits such use for a fan. If permitted, do we have to use HID- or SWD-marked circuit breakers?

The NEC permits circuit breakers to be used as switches under certain conditions. Section 404.11 specifically permits a hand-operable circuit breaker equipped with a lever or handle. All molded-case circuit breakers have an external handle to move the device into the on or off position.

There in an informational note below 404.11 that refers the user to see 240.81 and 240.83. Section 240.81 requires that circuit breakers indicate whether they are in the open (off) or closed (on) position and requires handles operated vertically have the “up” position be the “on” position.

Section 240.83(D) requires circuit breakers used as switches for fluorescent lighting circuits be listed and marked as SWD or HID. Circuit breakers use as switches in high intensity discharge lighting circuits must be listed and marked as HID. The NEC does not require a circuit breaker used to switch a ceiling fan to be marked SWD or HID.

About the Author

Jim Dollard

Code Columnist

Jim Dollard is the safety coordinator for IBEW Local 98 in Philadelphia. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NEC CMP-10, NEC CMP-13, NFPA 70E, NFPA 90A/B and the UL Electrical Council. He can be reached at codefaqs@gmail.com.

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