Secrets of the Code-Making Process

A behind-the-scenes look at how NEC revisions are made.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. This was always my impression of how Codes were made and modified. I imagined it was some sort of exclusive group of really, really smart people sitting in a small room discussing health, safety, and welfare. Well, last fall I had my first glimpse of this process as I sat through a Code panel meeting during the final session for the 2014 NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC). At the conclusion of this meeting, a lot of my preconceived notions were blown out of the water (although the "really smart people" one still holds).

Formed in the late 1880s, NFPA publishes more than 300 Codes and Standards administered by more than 250 technical committees consisting of more than 8,000 volunteers. The Codes and Standards are utilized extensively to protect health, safety, and welfare. Taking this into consideration, it really is an honor to be a part of this process. I also thought it might be valuable to share a few highlights of my experiences as a technical committee member, so you could get a behind-the-scenes look into this mysterious world.

I represent ASHE as a Technical Committee Member on Code-Making Panel (CMP) 13 for the NEC. NFPA 70 has 19 technical committees, and each Article and Annex in the NEC is designated to one of the 19 technical committees. CMP 13 has purview over Articles 445, 455, 480, 695, 700, 701, 702, 708, Annex F and Annex G, which are the generator, fire pump and emergency systems sections (with a few others added in for good measure). Each panel consists of a consensus body comprised of committee members who represent different industries affected by the Code. There are manufacturers, users (my category), installer/maintainer, labor, applied research/testing laboratory, enforcing authorities, insurance, consumers, and special experts (leave it to NFPA to even have an "other" category for committee members). With the balance of perspectives, it assures that modifications are not made to benefit just one faction of the industry.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m actually the alternate not the principal on this committee. What this means is that I can freely participate in panel discussions and provide my input, but I don't formally vote unless my principal is not in attendance. I like to think that I am the first runner-up in the Miss America Pageant — only for a technical committee chair. If the principal is not able to fulfil his or her duties in the role of ASHE representative, then the crown goes to me, and I get to vote.

As many of you most likely already know, NFPA 70 is currently starting its new cycle for the 2017 edition. I spent the last week in Hilton Head Island, S.C., at the first round of NFPA Code-Making Panel meetings. At the start of each cycle, public input (PI) is requested for proposed modifications, additions, and changes to the current edition of the NEC. We have all been in a position where we read a Code section and say to ourselves, "this isn't clear," "this is in conflict," or "I don't agree with this statement." This is the forum to have your voice heard. Anyone can submit a PI, but the requirement of the format for the PI is stringent, and technical substantiation is required for each proposal. "Just because" you want something changed in the NEC is not valid technical substantiation.

For the 2017 NEC cycle, there were more than 5,000 public comments submitted, and the agenda of the first round of meetings was to evaluate each and every comment (sometimes in painstaking detail). Our CMP 13 had more than 300 PIs to evaluate, and the task of the group was to resolve (reject) or create a first revision (FR) for each proposal. The committee discussed each proposal, and then the principal representatives voted on each item. Visitors to the panel meeting (yes, there are actually Code panel groupies) are not allowed to speak unless recognized by the chair and are not an active part of the committee discussion. Proposals accepted will receive an FR number and will be sent out to the committee for approval at the completion of the meeting session.

Once this process is completed, the proposed FRs will then be sent back out for public comment, and the process will be repeated. The primary difference is that no new information may be proposed at the second revision stage. There are many checks and balances along the way, including review by the Technical Correlating Committee (TCC) whose purpose is to assure alignment between all of the Code panels. At the end of the three-year cycle, the new edition of the Code is published, and the process starts again.

Unfortunately, even though a new edition of the NEC is published, that does not mean all states and cities will adopt the latest version. This Code roulette is a hot topic among enforcement agencies and will be discussed in a subsequent post. Until then, don't be intimidated by the "man behind the curtain." Get involved in the Code-making process — your voice can make a difference. I would strongly encourage everyone to take an active part by using your real-life experiences to help make the world a safer place.

 

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