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Utilities’ unique stake in the National Electrical Safety Code

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  • Feb 2, 2016

In continuous use since its 1914 introduction, the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) proposes safety practices for electric supply and communication systems such as telephone, cable and railroad signal systems and their associated equipment. More than 100 years later, the work of modifying the code to keep it relevant and effective at contributing to worker and public safety is always ongoing. No one is more impacted by the NESC’s evolution than utilities.

The electric utility industry is home to most of the NESC’s users. It is utility employees, contractors and customers whose safety is most enhanced by the code’s adaptations for new technologies, applications and challenges implementing these technologies in the field. Utilities also have a tremendous financial stake in all changes to the NESC.

The NESC’s evolution

The NESC proposes safety guidelines for everything from the point of generation of either power or communications to the customer’s “service point. ” The service point is defined as the location where power or communications transfers to a premises wiring system. The applications covered in the code include generating facilities and substations, high-voltage transmission towers, joint-use poles for local distribution of communication and power, underground systems and buried areas in easements and rights-of-way.

A revised edition of the NESC is published every five years, following a structured, open and inclusive process facilitated by the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA). The IEEE-SA is the standards and collaborative solutions arm of IEEE, the world's largest professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity and secretariat of the NESC since 1972. 

The most current, 2012 edition of the code introduced important changes and/or clarifications in far-reaching areas such as the NESC’s application in relation to National Electrical Code (NEC), techniques for effective grounding, protection of electrical supply stations, underground inspection rules and requirements, apparel arc ratings and minimum approach distances (MADs).

Work is well underway for the 2017 edition of the NESC, and the revisions under consideration include:

* definitions associated with communication equipment, electric supply equipment and structure conflict;

* clearance rules for communication space above supply space, and

* harmonizing the work rules in the NESC with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) 29 CFR 1910.269 and1926 Subpart V final rulings.

A proposed revision of the code is scheduled to be submitted to the NESC Main Committee on Jan. 15, 2016, for letter ballot, as well as to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for concurrent public review. Aug. 1, 2016, is the scheduled publication date for the next edition of the NESC.

Utilizing the code

How do changes to the NESC come to impact utilities?

Sometimes, a given utility will reference the NESC in its own holistic safety program—such as in all-hands safety meetings, apprentice programs, safety manuals, spot checks and “tailboard discussions.”  Also, the code is sometimes leveraged for design criteria for distribution facilities for the power and communication industries globally. 

And, of course, the NESC strongly influences utilities’ regulatory landscape. Almost all of the United States leverages the code in whole or part via legislative, regulatory or voluntary action. Regulations in some U.S. states reference the current edition of the NESC when issues arise related to the code’s scope, for example. Other U.S. states leverage only the construction and maintenance rules in the code. Even California, which has its own state safety code, reviews its requirements in light of new releases of the NESC every five years. 

About 100 countries around the world use all or parts of the NESC, modifying the code to account for their own local climates or other particular market conditions. For example, IEEE and the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) signed an agreement to enable use of the NESC in developing the Pakistan Electric and Telecommunication Safety Code (PETSAC-2014). PETSAC-2014 provides rules for safe practices in design, installation, operation and maintenance of electric supply and telecommunication systems, and the Government of Pakistan on 30 July 2015 notified PETSAC-2014 for implementation by electrical power and telecommunication utilities, both private and public, across Pakistan.

The NESC is renowned for working within its scope to contribute to the safety of utility workers and the general public alike, during installation, operation and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and their associated equipment. Its refinement through a methodical, five-year process overseen by the IEEE-SA is of particular interest to utilities, for it is their employees, customers and finances that are most impacted by changes to the NESC. 

Michael Hyland is NESC chair and senior vice president of engineering services at the American Public Power Association (APPA).





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