The NESC: Making the Power Industry Safer
By Michael Hyland and Jim Tomaseski, IEEE National Electrical Safety Code
In 1913, the U.S. Congress charged the Bureau of Standards with studying the hazards of electrical practice. Since then, the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) has evolved steadily to reflect changes in the technologies that have become available to the utility industry.
A broad examination of utility statistics indicates that the NESC has been a key factor in rendering the electrical community a safer place for workers and consumers alike. There are a relatively low number of deaths given the tremendous number of hours worked on activities covered by the NESC. However, even one death is too many to accept.
STRENGTHENING THE CODE
The contemporary world requires electricity 24/7 for the sake of public safety and global commerce. And that means the need to craft and refine a strong NESC has never been greater.
The NESC community revises the code once every five years to stay current with the changing industry landscape. Major revisions in the current NESC (2007) addressed grounding, sag calculations, guy and span wire insulators, load and strength factors, transportation of flammable materials, phase-to-phase cover-up, minimum-approach distance tables, and clothing requirements based on arc hazard analysis.
Work on the 2012 NESC is underway. Various subcommittees are considering change proposals and making preliminary recommendations that are scheduled to be published in the NESC Preprint, which will be available on Sept. 1, 2009. Comments on these change proposals and preliminary recommendations will be accepted until May 2010. A proposed revision of the NESC will be ready for public review in January 2011. Publication of the next NESC is planned for Aug. 1, 2011.
The requirement to follow the NESC is brought to bear in the field in numerous ways. For one, the NESC often leads or informs the regulations of the U.S. Dept. of Labor OSHA. The NESC is at the top of a hierarchy of documents that OSHA reviews when crafting its regulations for the electrical industry.
Also, the individual states drive NESC adherence. The NESC is a voluntary industry-consensus standard that cannot be mandated by anyone except the public service/utility commissions or other appropriate bodies that oversee utility operation within individual states. Regulatory and legislative processes may vary from state to state. In some cases, there might be scrutiny to adopt the NESC by particular edition or parts; in others, there's an automatic adoption, with a state requiring NESC compliance without limits by edition, section, or time frame. Forty-eight states recognize the NESC; it also is used in more than 100 countries outside of the United States.
PROMOTING A SAFETY CULTURE
Members of the electrical utility industry are no longer willing to concede that ours is such dangerous work that an acceptable number of people will be injured doing it. That's progress.
Most utilities now have holistic programs in place—usually encompassing both the NESC and OSHA regulations—that dictate a variety of valuable practices:
Utilities have safety manuals that their workers usually keep in the glove compartment, if not on the front seat, of their trucks.
Utility workers regularly take part in pre-job discussions by their trucks, where they discuss the work they are about to perform, attempt to foresee hazards, and discern what needs to be done to ensure safety.
Many utilities mandate monthly or weekly safety meetings.
OSHA and utilities perform spot checks to ensure that workers are following proper practices.
Furthermore, apprentice programs of three to five years—for all personnel from line workers to meter technicians—are prevalent across the electrical industry. There are procedures for advancement to some type of journey level before utility workers are unleashed in the real world. Consequently, it doesn't take long to weed out apprentices who don't have safety at heart.
The NESC is designed to go hand-in-hand with the best work practices out there; in fact, the code is expressly not intended as a design specification or instruction manual in and of itself. The NESC's effectiveness depends on its adoption in mandated work practices and the commitment of individual workers to follow those practices while on the job.
There is no doubt that some of the work the electrical community does is hazardous. However, we have better equipment, tools, training, and work procedures than ever before. Even though unfortunate accidents still occur, our industry's injury rate has improved significantly—and the NESC's evolution over the last 90-plus years is a major reason why. The NESC continues to adapt as lessons are learned and new technologies are developed. When leveraged in concert with mandated work practices, the NESC provides the foundation for a safety culture across the electrical community.
Hyland, PE, is chair of IEEE NESC and vice president of engineering services with the American Public Power Assn. (APPA), the service organization for the nation's more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities that serve more than 45 million Americans.
Tomaseski is vice chair of IEEE NESC and director, safety and health department, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents approximately 750,000 members who work in a wide variety of fields including utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, railroads, and government.
2012 National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) Schedule
July 17, 2008
Final date for receipt of proposals from the public for revisions to the 2007 edition of the NESC.
NESC subcommittees consider proposals for changes to the NESC and prepare their recommendations.
September 1, 2009
Preprint of proposed amendments for incorporation into the 2007 edition of the NESC published for distribution to the NESC committee and other interested parties.
May 1, 2010
Period for study of proposed amendments and submittal by interested parties of recommendations concerning the proposed amendments.
Period for NESC subcommittee working groups and NESC subcommittees to reconsider all recommendations concerning the proposed amendments and prepare final report.
January 15, 2011
Proposed revision of the NESC submitted to NESC committee for letter ballot and to ANSI for concurrent public review.
May 15, 2011
NESC committee-approved revisions of the NESC submitted to ANSI for recognition as an ANSI standard.
August 1, 2011
Publication of the 2012 edition of the NESC.
How the code is organized:
First published in 1914 (and exclusively by IEEE since 1972), the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) sets ground rules for the practical safeguarding of persons during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and associated equipment.
The NESC contains the basic provisions considered necessary for the safety of employees and the public under specified conditions. The NESC is not intended as a design specification or as an instruction manual.
The NESC is organized as follows. Sections 1, 2, and 3 were introduced in the 1980s; Section 9 was introduced in 1916—rather than being renamed Section 4, it continues to be known as Section 9:
- Section 1—Introduction, including scope and purpose
- Section 2—Definitions
- Section 3—References
- Section 9—Grounding
- Part 1—Rules for installation and maintenance of electric supply stations and equipment
- Part 2—Rules for installation and maintenance of overhead electric supply and communication lines
- Part 3—Rules for installation and maintenance of underground electric supply and communication lines
- Part 4—Rules for operation of electric supply and communication lines and equipment