Safety Enhancements in the 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC)

Stay Informed

Every three years brings a new edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC). The regular updates aim to improve electrical safety standards and keep employees and their workplace hazard-free. The 2020 edition of the NEC introduces several key modifications to keep up with present-day technology, increasing safety for electrical workers.

What is the National Electrical Code (NEC)?

First published in 1897, the NEC (or NFPA 70) is issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Adopted by all 50 states, the NEC is a standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States. It is set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

The NFPA does not have the authority to create legally enforced regulations, so despite the term “national,” the NEC is not federal law. States and municipalities often adopt the NEC into law to enforce standard safe electrical practices.

The Importance of the 2020 NEC Changes

For the sake of safety and regulatory compliance, it’s in everyone’s best interest to be compliant with the NEC in their respective state. Anyone, including the city issuing building permits, may face a civil liability lawsuit for negligently creating a situation that results in loss of life or property. In the event of a lost life, if you have not operated following the NEC, you could be charged with criminal negligence. Any electrician who goes against the standards outlined in the NEC could face the loss of their license.

The latest edition of the National Electrical Code was the 2020 NEC, published on September 18, 2019. For a high-level map of NEC adoption (as of 7/1/2020), see below:


The 3 Major Changes

The 2020 NEC contains several modifications, and we recommend that you read and train on those updates. The three most significant changes include ground fault circuit (GFCI) protection, surge protection, and emergency disconnects.

1. Ground Fault Circuit (GFCI) Protection

New GSFI requirements have been expanded to include all 125-volt through 250-volt outlets. A single-phase branch circuit rated at 150-volts or less must have protection in areas where required by the NEC. Areas that require GFCI protection include dryer and range receptacles within six feet of a sink, basements, lighting outlets within a small space, laundry areas, and outdoor outlets.

The 2020 GFCI requirements focus on ground-fault protection and leakage-current measurement in non-dwelling locations, marinas, and boatyards. These requirements will provide additional protection for personnel working on site.

Regardless of where a GFCI is installed, the code-making panel 2 (CMP 2) acknowledges that risks and hazards are still there. Because of this, it’s important to extend GFCI protection to all branch circuits.

2. Surge Protection

A new section included in the 2020 NEC requires protection by listed surge protective devices (SPDs) for all lines feeding dwelling units: Type 1 or Type 2. This equipment protects electrical devices and appliances that may not be covered by point-of-use SPDs.

  • Type 1: Installed before the main device in the load center and intended for installation between the secondary of the service transformer and the line side of the service disconnect overcurrent device
  • Type 2: Installed after the main devices in the load center and intended for installation on the load side of the service disconnect overcurrent device, including SPDs located at the brand panel

When it comes to electrical hazards, what can cause a power surge? Believe it or not, a power surge is typically generated by an internal source. Internal sources include turning off/on large appliances, faulty wiring, and power recovery after an outage. External sources comprise of lighting, power line damage, and utility power grid switching.

On average, a home has $15,000 worth of equipment at risk of damage by surges. To stay protected from a power surge, following the NEC requirements by utilizing SPDs can provide a high level of increased safety.

3. Emergency Disconnects

Outdoor emergency disconnects are required for new construction, homes undergoing renovations, and homes receiving service replacement. Emergency disconnects improve electrical safety for first responders when acting on emergencies, such as a house fire, at one and two-family dwelling installations. The disconnect should be installed in an easily accessible outdoor location to help increase safety measures for service personnel and homeowners in a time of need. Emergency disconnects suitable for use may include service disconnects, meter disconnects, or listed disconnect switches or circuit breakers on the supply side of each device disconnect.

Previously referred to as “the six disconnect rule,” this rule, including service panelboards with six disconnects or fewer, are no longer permitted as service entrance equipment. This update has changed previous longstanding rules to stay up to date with today’s technology and knowledge to avoid accidental contact with live terminals.

Additionally, line-side barrier requirements have been expanded to service equipment beyond panelboards and switchboards, and now include transfer switches, fusible disconnect switches, and others with blanket language.

Increased Safety Measures

The 2020 edition of the NEC has added significant safety advances for electrical workers. Performance testing is now required to ensure safety through testing of equipment following installation. Due to prior concerns of expenses to transport testing equipment, testing of the correct areas, and abiding by the manufacturer’s instructions, performance testing can ensure that equipment is running smoothly before use.

Along with proper testing, a new foundation has been established for future requirements of reconditioned and used equipment to ensure proper usage. All equipment should be kept and accepted under NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) regardless of the differences in rebuilt devices. Because there are safety concerns with how resellers may refurbish equipment, original documentation should be referenced.

With many new safety changes to the 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC), facilities should become familiar with these standards to maintain proper safety practices and to avoid unexpected electrical hazards. If you’re working in the electrical industry, make sure to review and understand the 2020 NEC updates to boost your workplace safety.

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