Weighing in on the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)

We are currently at the start of an eight-month window for open commentary on the change proposals in the preprint of proposed changes for the 2017 edition of the NESC.


100 years of National Electrical Safety CodeThe developers of the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) like to point out that the code is not a design manual; it is the source of design criteria for much of the distribution facilities for the power and communication industries throughout the United States and many other countries around the world. Consulting and specifying engineers leverage the NESC heavily in their work, making their stake in the code’s ongoing evolution and refinement profound. 

For 100 years, the NESC has succeeded within its scope in outlining the basic provisions that are necessary to protect utility employees and the public during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and their associated equipment. The code addresses systems such as telephone, cable TV, and railroad signal systems at both public and private utilities. It applies from the point of generation or delivery from another entity up to the “service point,” where power or communications transfers to a premises wiring system.

Consulting and specifying engineers are governed by and use code. Therefore, the success of the engineers’ designs and that of the NESC in terms of contributing to utility worker and public safety are intimately linked. The perspective of those engineers is key in the ongoing process of revising the NESC to adapt for new challenges in the field, emergent technology innovations, etc. 

We are currently at the start of an eight-month window for open commentary on the change proposals in the preprint of proposed changes for the 2017 edition of the NESC. Several of the proposed changes under consideration for the 2017 NESC include:

  • Definitions for communication equipment, electric supply equipment and structure conflict;
  • Clearance rules regarding communication space above supply space;
  • Elimination of an existing exemption for structures and supported facilities not exceeding 60 feet in height from extreme wind and extreme ice with concurrent wind loading rules, and
  • Harmonization for work rules with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V final rulings.

From 1 September 2014 until 1 May 2015, the open-commentary period allows any interested party to review, affirm or suggest additional changes to the change proposals that are under consideration.

Keeping the Code Up to Date

The requirements of the original NESC were based upon engineering theory and generally accepted good practice of the day. Since 1972,the secretariat of the NESC has been IEEE. The standards and collaborative solutions arm of IEEE, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), facilitates a structured five-year process that invites open input on the NESC’s ongoing refinement:

  • Any interested person, organization, NESC subcommittee or member of the NESC Committee or its subcommittees is invited to submit change proposals to the current edition of the code.
  • Change proposals are considered by NESC subcommittees. A subcommittee can choose to endorse a proposal, prepare proposed revisions or additions, refer that change proposal for more detailed consideration by a technical working group, suggest coordination with other subcommittees and/or recommend rejection of the proposal. 
  • A “preprint” of the proposed changes for the next edition of the NESC is published and made available to the public through the IEEE Standards Store, standards.ieee.org/store
  • An eight-month period of open commentary on the change proposals included in the preprint commences, and the relevant NESC subcommittees consider the proposed revisions and comments.
  • A draft of the next edition of the NESC is prepared, based on the subcommittee reports. That draft goes before the NESC Committee for approval by a six-week letter ballot and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Board of Standards Review for concurrent 60-day public review. 

Important revisions and/or clarifications in areas such as how the NESC applies 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) were among those introduced in the current, 2012 edition of the code. When that version was released, collaboration on the next, 2017 edition was underway. The effort to produce a robust, effective NESC and, thereby, contribute to the safety of utility workers and the public never stops.


The NESC’s technical standing committees, subcommittees and their volunteers from around the United States have already taken the initial input from the public (in the form of change proposals) and voted on them one way or another after lengthy discussion. Now everyone has the opportunity to chime in on whether they agree or disagree with those change proposals and decisions and why. Maybe we are missing something, or maybe we have failed to explain something as accurately as possible. This is the opportunity for anyone to weigh in with those opinions and participate in the process of ultimately creating the best next edition of the NESC possible.

To learn more about how to participate in the ongoing open-commentary period and submit input electronically, please visit the NESC website. Among those stakeholders, of course, are consulting and specifying engineers. Your input is vitally needed now to ensure that the NESC remains practical, relevant and up to date.

Mike Hyland, PE, is the senior vice president of Engineering Services for the American Public Power Association in Washington, D.C. He is currently chair of the National Electrical Safety Code.  

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