This piece was originally published in the October 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Vince Baclawski, Senior Technical Director, Codes and Standards, NEMA, Don Iverson, Midwest Field Representative, NEMA
Standards and code adoption are the underlying strength of a robust and cohesive electrical safety system. The adoption of model codes by states and other jurisdictions begins with the interrelationship of four distinct entities that craft the cornerstone of this system. Standards, codes, certification, and code enforcement together ensure safe products and safe installations.
Each entity represents a consensus within each segment of the electrical community, i.e., users, contractors, designers and installers, inspectors, testing laboratories, manufacturers, electrical workers, and insurers.
An effective electrical safety system has interconnected components that affect the implementation, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Electrical Safety Cycle
Infographic by Daniel Majano, Program and Digital Marketing Manager, Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI)
Standards establish the minimum level of safety and associated reliability for a product. They must be directly compatible with the electrical installation code that covers electrical products used in the electrical system.
Standards need to be developed with wide input and review from various electrical community segments. The best way to accomplish this objective is to develop them through a consensus-based, nationally recognized process that provides for wide participation of the electrical community. This broad review ensures that each product Standard reflects the level of safety and the necessary infrastructure compatibility within a defined scope.
Despite their appearance and traditional use, Standards also reflect social objectives, that is, what a society articulates as acceptable levels of risk. An example can be found in warnings and cautions used to prevent foreseeable accidents. In societies where tort law reaches into this process, these considerations are paramount. Standards must be written in a manner that allows for consistent interpretation, enforcement, and certification, if needed.
Manufacturers often use independent testing, inspection, and certification (TIC) organizations to certify that their products perform as claimed. In the United States, TICs are often referred to as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs). NRTL certification is often a requirement to having products included within state or local installation codes.
The installation code is the key driver for the system. It provides the fundamental safety principles and installation rules that deliver a safe electrical system. Compatibility with Standards and enforceable prescriptive language ensures that products support safety objectives. Enforceable rules must be measurable and are often necessarily prescriptive.
Inspection and Enforcement
Most often overlooked in an effective safety system is the need for an efficient and effective system of enforcement for compliance. Qualified inspectors provide the needed controls for such a system. Their strength can determine the impact on code adoption.
For example, a state legislature may be influenced by a builders’ association to forgo a provision in a building code. A member of NEMA’s Government Relations team may study the lay of the land and subsequently hire a consultant to lobby the legislature to uphold the provision.
There is a growing concern associated with the “quality assurance”–based inspection approach in which systems rely on review of the plans and limited auditing instead of thorough and timely on-site inspections throughout the course of the construction.
The majority of the electrical community welcomes a system of inspections that provides needed checks and balances. By contrast, taking a quality assurance approach only serves to keep the revenue from permit fees flowing without adding any value.
Safe Products, Safe Installations
Each component (Standard, installation code, certification, and enforcement) is interconnected and must be coordinated to achieve the expected level of electrical safety. When products and systems are built to comply with current safety Standards, the final step is proper installation confirmed by inspection by authorities having jurisdiction.
Electrical safety is not an accident. History has proven that systems containing all these elements work very well.