Chapter Corner

Safety is the Mission of the National Electrical Code

Posted in: Code Corner, March 2014

On a lovely spring day, a young tenant of an apartment complex we’ll call “Tommy” was playing outdoors rather than sitting in front of the TV playing video games with his siblings and eating junk food. Tommy was playing Frisbee golf around the swimming pool. The disc was thrown over the bushes and landed on an air conditioning (AC) unit. He went to retrieve the disc, happily stepping from one AC unit to the next, being very mindful not to jump too hard onto the metal so that he would not make a dent, carefully and with precision placing one foot at a time on each unit, not knowing the next unit he was going to touch would be his last.

Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. The last unit he stepped onto was energized and not grounded according to the National Electrical Code® (NEC). This accident happened so fast, was so preventable, and sadly, so permanent. Tommy’s family remembers that tragic moment every day, week after week, year after year, grieving for the rest of their lives. My heart aches when I think of Tommy. Knowing and applying the latest NEC changes are paramount to the safety and protection of people you know and people you will never know.

Becoming a Code Geek

I remember when I first started in the electrical contracting trade, the seasoned wiremen working on the job would say things like, “Because it’s the Code” or “You have to do it that way, because the Code book says to do it that way.” As an apprentice, I often wondered about this magical code book. When I became a Journeyman electrician, it became apparent that I needed to not only learn what the Code book says but know the changes, have a full understanding of why the changes were made, and understand how to apply the changes. This was critical to my profession. I remember the day a colleague referred to me as a code geek. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself as a code geek, but now I am proud of it!

Gone are the days of waiting for the latest edition of the NEC books to be released and spending an hour or two speed reading the document to pick up a few changes deemed appropriate for the types of projects one would typically work on. Advancements in electrical research, safety-related work practices and procedures, and new product and system technology have driven extensive changes in the NEC during the past few revision cycles. Trying to remember all the changes during one continuing education class can be overwhelming without prior knowledge of the items being presented. If you truly want to maintain your expertise on NEC requirements and make code change training classes understandable and enjoyable, it would be beneficial to closely track all the steps of the revision process.

The Revision Process

Although the NEC® is officially revised once every three years, the revision process is constantly in motion. No matter what stage of the revision process a standard may be in, there will always be an opportunity for you to take part in it, thus improving your knowledge of the Code and your expertise in the electrical contracting field. The NEC® Code Making Panels meet twice during a code revision cycle to act on Change Proposals (now called Public Inputs) submitted by individuals representing all sectors of the electrical community. Studying the Public Inputs will give you a quick look of what part of the NEC® is likely to change in the next edition and help you to better understand why the change is being considered.

Keeping up with the changes to the Code is essential to your career as a professional craftsman—an electrician and an electrical contractor. The mission of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the NEC® can be found in Section 90.1, which states: The purpose of this Code is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity. Understanding the changes to the Code and the effect on the industry after each and every update can help secure construction projects for your employees, and provide safe installations for the consumer. Safety is our ethical and moral obligation.

David Johnson is Executive Director of the IEC CenTex chapter in Austin, Texas. He is also IEC’s Principal representative on Code Making Panel 19.