Electrical Safety and NEC Compliance: A Roundtable Discussion
Electrical safety continues to dominate industry conversations as professionals across the country seek opportunities to improve their understanding of current safety trends and brush up on best practices for ensuring safety in both the products they purchase and their installation. For this reason, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has named May National Electrical Safety Month, and professionals around the industry are taking the opportunity to focus attention on the critical importance of safety.
This year’s National Electrical Safety Month theme is “Understanding the Code That Keeps Us Safe,” focusing on the importance of the National Electrical Code (NEC) and its three-year cycle. Recently, we asked a panel of experts from global power management company Eaton to weigh in with their unique perspectives on the most pressing issues around code compliance and its impact on electrical safety in 2018.
Participants in the panel include:
- Thomas Domitrovich, P.E., LEED AP – Vice President, Technical Sales, Bussmann Division
- Kevin Lippert – Manager, Codes & Standards
- Amber Wright, P.E. – Engineer, Eaton Experience Center - Houston
- Dan Carnovale, P.E. – Manager, Eaton Experience Center - Pittsburgh
- Eddie Wilkie – Director of Engineering, Power Distribution and Control Division
What’s the biggest trend you’re seeing regarding NEC compliance and safety in 2018?
Domitrovich: The adoption of the NEC continues to be a struggle across the country as states and other local jurisdictions review and adopt the NEC’s requirements into law. We continue the work to combat amendments to these requirements and those jurisdictions that seek delayed adoption of the NEC beyond the normal 3-year cycle – as well as those locations that refuse to adopt or enforce the NEC at all. The NEC includes many important requirements, the most basic of which is the application of a solution within its listing/ratings. Some requirements can be quite complicated. At a bare minimum, the industry needs to educate all involved around the requirements included in the NEC and its place in the overall safety picture. This includes inspectors, installers, manufacturers, and engineers. We all play a role in ensuring safety, and it’s up to each person engaged with a project to understand and apply the requirements.
Lippert: The NEC requirements are composed by volunteer members who represent all aspects of the electrical community: labor, manufacturers, users, academia, and others. The process is very well defined and organized by National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) to ensure a balance of representation. The NFPA process is open and allows anyone to submit changes with every suggestion given consideration. Even though this process is conducted on a national level to cover all NEC requirements, each state (and sometimes even local jurisdictions) has their own process for NEC adoption. Many times these local adoptions take exceptions to the NEC, creating various requirements depending upon locale. It would be great if the NEC were adopted without amendment and in a timely manner by all.
Wright: For most organizations, safety has become a greater part of on-the-job training, and the NEC is positioned as one of several tools available to enhance the learning process. As the knowledge gap grows between generations, reliance on codes and guidelines inherently helps to fill those gaps a fact that tends to carry greater value when formal awareness of compliance is taught as one element of holistic safety education.
Carnovale: We’re seeing more companies take a strong stance on safety and enforce compliance by requiring knowledge of what is needed for both NEC and OSHA guidelines. Safety is a priority and an essential cost of doing business, and lack of compliance is not tolerated. This, of course, is a positive development. There seems to be a growing tendency for companies to spend more on safety and related programs and equipment. And with the volume of resources available on the web, contractors are starting to ask smart questions about why details in the NEC are relevant instead of just blindly following the code. As the need for safety has grown, so too has the need for education and knowledge of safety, and companies are taking steps to meet these needs.
Wilkie: As the NEC evolves to enhance safety of installations, the awareness of safety in the broader industry is also increasing. The knowledge of users continues to increase around elements of the code that serve to enhance safety in their workplace. This is a positive trend for the industry and for worker safety.
What’s the most important thing for electrical professionals to know about NEC compliance and its impact on safety?
Domitrovich:We can’t forget that we are working with a system of components that all must work together and perform safely. The NEC is not the only piece of the puzzle. Product listing cannot be ignored. It’s critical that we apply listed solutions as per the manufacturer’s instructions and meet or exceed NEC requirements. We must also understand that systems must be maintained to provide a safe solution for the life of the system. The NEC is a bare minimum for safety. We cannot and should not use the NEC as a design guide. Meet your customer wants and needs first and then ensure you are in compliance with NEC requirements.
Lippert: Each edition of the NEC considers the latest in technology, products, and processes for new requirements. This continually raises the bar for overall electrical safety. Again, this highlights the importance for quick and uniform adoption of the latest edition of the NEC.
Wright: Methodologies complement compliance and safety. These core competencies do not change – rather, they gain clarity and strength with experience. Workplace safety should be top of mind and NEC compliance is part of the required effort through continuous reference.
Carnovale: Most people involved with electrical power systems are not NEC code experts. This includes the people who design, specify, purchase, and even install electrical equipment. The reality is that most of these groups have a limited understanding and knowledge of the specific details of the NEC. Often these people are experts in one section, but as systems are put together and as boundaries are crossed, details are not known or fully understood. Add to this the complication of the latest code versus the code that is enforced within a state or region and is not consistent across areas that they may support. Education is still the best opportunity for us to bring compliance and, ultimately, safety to electrical power systems and the people installing, owning, and operating them.
Wilkie: Adherence to the NEC is essential to building a safer workplace. Safety aspects associated with product designs are typically covered with industry product standards, but the installation of the equipment is addressed by the NEC. Compliance with the NEC and the associated integrity of practices are critical to ensuring the installation complies with methods proven to enhance safety.
Conclusion: As independent contractors and other electrical professionals work to understand the latest requirements of the NEC, Eaton is committed to helping these professionals stay up-to-date on code and safety trends. Visit Eaton’s new blog, For Safety’s Sake, to hear more from Eaton experts offering tips and best practices in safety and code compliance: www.eaton.com/forsafetysake.