Just last week the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute released a report on Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety. Rather than “neglect” though, perhaps “actively opposing” would be a better way to state it. Or, at least, this might better capture the statements and actions of some in the Kentucky legislature which recently passed a bill to open the gates to removing safety requirements from the state adopted National Electrical Code® (NEC).
“[There’s] nothing in this bill that’s going to be a detriment to somebody’s safety,” stated Senator Jared Carpenter during a floor debate right after he offered that when a GFCI tripped in the bathroom of a tenant using a curling iron in one of his apartment buildings, he had electricians remove the device to make things “more efficient.” With this bill, rather than ensure the Kentucky Electrical Code protects people from shocks caused by faulty appliances through adhering to the NEC, Senator Carpenter and the other backers of HB 100 in the Kentucky legislature, are opening the door to potentially deadly shortcuts. Advances like GFCIs, which in 2003 the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found could address nearly half of all home electrocutions in the U.S., are exactly the types of provisions that should remain in the code. (Hear Senator Carpenter address the Kentucky legislature in this short video clip below.)
This is a perfect, and unfortunate, example of politicians’ lack of education on codes leading to decisions with real safety consequences. It’s also examples like these that motivated the Policy Institute to look at state NEC adoption across the U.S. After reviewing the length of time it takes states to adopt the latest version of each NEC update and the practices used to promulgate those adoptions, as well as commissioning surveys and interviews with individuals recently responsible for NEC adoptions, several findings emerged:
- Observers reported that the adoption process is under heavier political scrutiny, leading to delays and decisions motivated by factors other than safety concerns. In addition, members of promulgating boards worry increasingly about the political influence on such boards and board members.
- Electrical regulatory boards tend to promote more prompt and consistent adoptions. States without such boards were twice as likely to skip a cycle of the NEC. States with electrical boards adopted each update cycle in about half the time.
- Prioritizing the NEC is important. States that adopt all construction-related codes at once tend to take twice as long to adopt the latest NEC updates, leaving residents of their states well behind the national standard for safe electrical design, installation, and maintenance.
- The cost of compliance is often considered in isolation, without any consideration of the benefits of advancing safety, and enabling new technology, and is often the sole driver in code adoption discussions.
The NEC is an important tool to help states advance electrical safety. In addition to educating policymakers on the role of the NEC in promoting electrical safety and on the independent, expert-driven process under which it is developed, the report offers several recommendations to policymakers. High among these recommendations is to steer special interests seeking changes to the NEC to the national-level development process, which is open to anyone to participate rather than making decisions to amend out important safety provisions. The report also encourages states to establish or maintain an electrical board, relying on further expertise for technical matters, and to adopt new updates to the NEC as soon as each one is available, rather than waiting to adopt the NEC with other construction codes.
The legislators in Kentucky should know that 65 percent of U.S. residents trust their policymakers not to remove code requirements, according to an independent survey commissioned by the Policy Institute last summer. They should also know that 81 percent feel policymakers should view keeping fire and electrical safety codes up-to-date as a priority. Data analyzed by NFPA reveals that each year, there are over 61,000 fires of electrical origin that kill roughly 432 people and cause over $2 billion in damage. Policymakers should move to embrace the safety advances available in new versions of the NEC rather than neglecting—or opposing—them.
To learn more, check out (and download for free) the full Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety report, a report summary, and an infographic highlighting the making of the 2017 NEC, by visiting www.nfpa.org/policyinstitute