IEC National Codes and Standards Committee Protects the Membership
IEC's Codes and Standards Committee is often thought of as the committee that helps make rules and regulations. While this is true, the real reason the committee exists is to protect the interests and safety of IEC members. The National Electrical Code® (NEC) is a document that sets the standards for the safety of everyone when it comes to installing and using electricity. This article is a brief discussion of one of the attempts by the committee to protect IEC members through proposing a change in the NEC.
Ground Wire Safety
During the 2011 code cycle report on proposals (ROP), there was a proposal to require a ground wire in all outside heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) feeder and branch circuits so that the conduit was not the primary grounding path. Evidence was presented to Panel 11 as to why this was necessary. One example involved a young boy in Chicago who was walking down the street and decided to jump up on top of a heat pump unit. When he did so, he reached over and grabbed hold of a chain link fence and was electrocuted. The flex feeding the heat pump had separated, and the hot wire had gone to ground.
After much debate, the proposal was approved by a narrow margin. This proposal was not unique in its concept because there are several states that require an additional ground wire in rooftop units. The reason for this is because electrical metallic tubing can separate rather easily when exposed to harsh conditions. Two examples of instances when these hazards may exist are re-roofing and snow removal.
Protecting Electrical Contractors
Protecting IEC members is a primary concern when considering whether a code change is desirable. IEC decided to conduct a survey of the membership to find out how big of a problem the lack of an additional ground wire was. Half of the respondents said they have seen separated conduits running across rooftop feeding equipment.
Recently, an electrical contracting company was called to a restaurant to find out why the rooftop HVAC equipment was not running properly. Upon investigation, the contractors found the conduit feeding the equipment had separated, and there was no ground wire installed in the conduit. Taking precautionary measures, the contractors donned rubber gloves before attempting to reconnect the conduit. When the two ends of the conduit touched each other, they shorted out. One of the hot wires had gone to ground, and there was no return path to ground to trip the breaker. This could have easily resulted in a serious injury or death.
Imagine grabbing two ends of the conduit, one in each hand, and completing a circuit through the chest and heart. When servicing rooftop equipment that is isolated from ground, always use caution in touching the equipment and take proper precautionary measures.
Moving the Proposal Forward
During the report on comments, the technical correlating committee sent the proposal back to Panel 11 and said that this was not in the purview of the committee, but rather Panels 5 and 8. Because of the importance of this issue, IEC was asked to be on a task group with Panel 8 to see if there as a solution that correlated with all the affected panels. The result was a proposal put together by the efforts of both panels to require an additional ground wire in non-threaded conduit feeding outside HVAC equipment. Again, after much debate, the proposal was passed.
However, the manufacturers filed a notice of intent to make a motion on the floor of the annual National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) meeting to reject the proposal. The argument was that Article 250.118 already lists acceptable methods of bonding. IEC had support from both the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to pass this proposal because those who are in the field recognize the hazards that can be encountered with this type of installation. Both organizations stated they had seen numerous examples of conduit that had separated. The end result was that the proposal failed by one vote on the floor of the NFPA meeting.
IEC has determined that we will continue to try and get this proposal incorporated into the 2017 code. It is for hazards like this that it is important for IEC to watch out for the best interests of everyone in the electrical contracting field.
If there are safety issues you have some across that need to be addressed, the Codes and Standards Committee encourages you to make a proposal. If you do not know how to make a proposal, the committee is there to help you through the process. The next ROP is in November 2014.
IEC is a leader in influencing our industry, and we need your input in order to accomplish this goal.
Terry Cole is President of Hamer Electric in Longview, Washington. Cole has been in the electrical industry since 1973. He has helped develop electrical codes and standards for both the State of Washington and for NFPA 70 on Panels 4 and 11. Presently, he is chairman of the IEC National Codes and Standards Committee.