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National Electric Code 2017


National Electrical Code (NEC): What Purpose Does it Serve?

National Electrical Code (NEC) is aimed at safeguarding persons and property from hazards associated with electrical installations. As the preeminent electrical code in the country, it establishes the basics of electrical safety. The significance of the code reaches a new level when adopted into law by local jurisdictions.

Compliance with the code makes it easier to ensure that power installations are free of hazards. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), sponsors and maintains the NEC. The code-making task is handled by a committee through a series of public inputs, which consists of several panels in addition to a technical correlating committee.

The NEC is recognized and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The code is revised and published on a triannual basis. The majority of states do not immediately adopt and enforce the most recent NEC edition. They generally implement changes a few months to a few years after publication. In some cases, the states add, omit, or alter particular sections of the code.

Ever since its first publication in 1897, no court has faulted parties for adhering to the latest edition. Also, the NEC has the distinction of the being the least amended model code.

When it comes to access, the NEC is available in various formats, including a bound book and electrical form. The book contains hundreds of pages.

Brief history

The NEC was introduced in 1897 following representations made by various stakeholders, including insurance, electrical, and construction firms. The National Conference on Standard Electrical Rules composed the original set of electrical safety rules. The conference was attended by representatives of various national associations.

Some of the key items covered in the code during the 1800s include the use of single disconnect devices, identification of the white wire, and the use of an insulated conduit.

Scope of the National Electrical Code

The NEC addresses a wide variety of aspects in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. The technical applications covered include:

  • Installation of electrical conductors, raceways, and equipment
  • Optical fiber cables and raceways
  • Signaling and communications raceways, equipment, and conductors


Cities and states adopt and enforce a single set of electrical standards with the aim to safeguard the lives of residents and avoid lawsuits. As a result, electricians undergo intensive training covering NEC standards to become licensed professionals.

The majority of jurisdictions adopt the NEC through a process that turns it into law. This means non-compliance is considered illegal. The decision to make amendments is dependent on the jurisdiction’s interpretation of a particular rule. Most states and cities trust NFPA’s panels, which consist of qualified technical committee members.

The rules are set following extensive substantiation and deliberation. Jurisdictions that elect to amend parts of the code usually introduce more restrictive guidelines than minimums stipulated by the NEC. The amendments may be necessitated by specific local conditions. Modifications that lessen minimum requirements can expose states and cities to considerable risk.


The NEC features an introduction, index, annexes, and nine chapters. The introduction establishes a wide variety of aspects, including enforcement, rules, scope, and purpose. All the rules appearing in the code are distinguished by letters and numerals. The NEC Handbook comes with helpful cross-references, supplementary illustrations, and explanations (not enforceable).

The National Electrical Code addresses requirements pertaining to branch circuits typically containing fixtures and receptacles. It sets forth the minimum number of branch circuits in specified locations and the required spacing distance between receptacles in certain applications. The requirements vary based on purpose and location of the receptacle outlet.

Importance of the NEC for workplace electrical safety

Electrical hazards can cause serious bodily harm or loss of life. Workplace environments with electrical installations that do not comply with NEC standards place everyone’s lives at risk, including visitors. Many workers are ignorant to these hazards. In some cases, hazardous installations are only rectified following a major incident. Arc blasts, shocks, and arc flashes have the capacity to place lives in danger.

The key to safety lies in ongoing education and compliance. Production and financial considerations should not be used to justify non-compliance. In many jurisdictions, failure to adhere to NEC rules is a violation of federal law. Offending organizations can face criminal indictment or hefty fines. Electrical safety programs provide a practical way to ensure employee safety. All levels of personnel must be involved.

The NFPA 70E 2015, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, lists key requirements for an effective electrical safety program. They include the following:

  • Identification of electrical safety principles – for instance, safety by design
  • Identification and adoption of safety procedures
  • Awareness of electrical hazards
  • Use of safety tools and personal protective equipment
  • Implementation of risk or hazard evaluation procedures

The NTT Training Inc. hosts regular electrical codes and standards seminars, including the National Electrical Code. The events provide a good opportunity to stay up-to-date with NEC standards. For more information, contact NTT today.

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