Part of Grid Network »

The Transmission Professionals special interest group covers the distribution of power from generation to final destination. 


How the NESC® Provides for Multiple Stakeholders on the Utility Pole

Electric Power Post
Dr. Trevor Bowmer's picture
Telcordia (Ericsson)

As an organizational representative of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), Trevor Bowmer provides the communications-industry perspective on the NESC Main Committee and...

  • Member since 2015
  • 1 items added with 2,420 views
  • May 5, 2015

Utility poles and their multiple cross arms were laced with masses of power and communications lines along the nation’s highways and byways in the early years of infrastructure rollout in the United States. Fortunately for the utility workers who designed, deployed and maintained such infrastructure, the National Electrical Safety Code® (NESC®) has been there virtually from the beginning as a crucial, sense-making resource, providing dependable guidelines for safe design and activity.

Since its inception in August 1914, the NESC has evolved to cover a wider and wider range of applications—including electric supply stations, high-voltage transmission towers and joint-use poles for local distribution of communication and power services. The range of stakeholders and technologies on poles and in underground systems and buried areas in easements and rights-of-way has grown increasingly diverse, particularly in the years since deregulation in 1984. Proliferation of cable television, fiber-optic technology and wireless/cellular services have made for a more complex environment than ever, and, today, deployment of the “smart grid” is blurring the boundaries between power and communications infrastructure.

Over 100 years of continuous use in the utility industry, the code has served as a key tool for alleviating conflicts among facilities and work practices on structures shared by the different types of utility workers. And that role of providing for multiple stakeholders on the utility pole is only gaining in importance, for the sake of worker and public safety alike, as the NESC enters its second century of service.

The Code’s First 100 Years

The NESC proposes safety rules protecting workers and the public during the construction, maintenance and operation of electrical supply and communications lines. It applies to systems such as telephone, cable TV and railroad signal systems for both public and private utilities. While the National Electrical Code® (NEC) primarily addresses indoor/utilization wiring, the NESC is focused largely on the outdoor delivery lines and their associated hardware and equipment. In general, the provisions of the NESC are directly applicable to electrical-supply facilities from the supply station to the service point where power is handed off to a business or residential user and telecommunications facilities from the central office and the attachment point to the customer’s building.

The NESC is leveraged every day by engineers, designers and line workers either explicitly (such as by following Part 4’s daily work rules or Part 2’s clearance rules when attaching to poles) or implicitly (such as in referencing sag/tension tables and software tools that use pole strength, loading considerations and safety factors derived from the NESC). Nearly all of the individual U.S. states leverage the code in whole or part through legislative, regulatory or voluntary action, and about 100 countries worldwide use the code in some manner. The NESC today is one of the most widely adopted safety codes.

Inviting Input from Across a Diverse Range of Users

A wider array of antennas, traffic signals and communications infrastructure have been deployed to satisfy the demands of population growth, mobile communications and Internet proliferation during the NESC’s century of service. In turn, a more diverse range of utility expertise has come to work alongside one another on joint-usage structures.

This makes the NESC’s standardized rules for workers of different disciplines more necessary than ever, as cooperating within the common parameters of the widely accepted NESC enhances both safety and efficiency in carrying out varied functions. Furthermore, because the language, engineering controls and other technical aspects tends to vary among the different disciplines, it is important that all of those diverse utility workers with a stake in the code share in the effort of keeping it practical, relevant and up to date.

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), the standards and collaborative solutions arm of IEEE, oversees a structured, five-year process through which the NESC is revised. Open collaboration among the code’s stakeholders effectively never ends.

For example, an eight-month period of open commentary on the “Preprint” of proposed changes for the upcoming, 2017 edition of the NESC was ongoing through May 1, 2015, and afforded any interested parties the opportunity to review, affirm or suggest additional modifications to the NESC's change proposals. That Preprint is publicly available at the IEEE Standards Store, at The next code is scheduled for publication on Aug. 1, 2016.

Beyond 2017

Beyond seeking input specifically on the next edition, shapers of the NESC also are reaching out to the code’s far-reaching stakeholders—the various types of workers on the poles and other joint-use structures, as well as other professionals with utilities, non-utility industry, government, regulators and trade associations and the general public—in envisioning its next 100 yearsA first-of-its-kind “NESC Summit: Past, Present and Future” event took place this past April 28-29, 2015, in Alexandria, Va. The summit was intended to help guide the future of safety in the electrical power and communications environments. The conference offered an opportunity for the diverse stakeholders in the code’s evolution to meet and network with NESC developers, IEEE-SA staff, utility-company management and pertinent government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST).


For more than 100 years, the NESC has contributed to the safety of the public and more and more types of utility workers. Inputs, expertise and lessons learned from across the real-world field of implementation are needed to ensure that the NESC remains a vital and relevant industry safety code, even with new technologies and developments affecting the lines to which the code applies. Utility workers of every discipline have a uniquely necessary perspective on not only the next, 2017 edition of the NESC but its long-term evolution over the coming decades.

Dr. Trevor Bowmer's picture
Thank Dr. Trevor for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.

No discussions yet. Start a discussion below.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »