Defining electrical safety

There are many areas to consider when it comes to staying safe around electricity. Codes, guidelines, and best practices define safety for areas including:

  • Clearances: Equipment and line placement is codified to ensure that it can’t come into contact with people on any part of a building, boat, or other structure.
  • Strength and loading: Wires, poles, crossarms, and other structures must be strong enough to support equipment in a variety of conditions, including wind.
  • Grounding: Equipment must be properly grounded to avoid conducting electricity beyond the equipment
  • Preventing falls: Workers must use fall arrest protection for work completed above 4’ off the ground.
  • Avoiding hazardous contact with equipment: Workers always wear insulated rubber gloves when working on energized equipment (known as the lock to lock and cradle to cradle rule).
  • Minimizing arc flash injuries: Workers are required to wear flame resistant clothing appropriate for the arc-flash potential where they are working.
  • Staying informed: As a best practice, crews regularly participate in safety briefings and identify hazards and personal protective equipment prior to the start of work.


Creating a Code

Since it first published in 1914, the National Electrical Safety Code has regularly updated to ensure that we can all live and work around electricity safely. Here are some key updates.

1938: Operation of Electric Equipment and Lines released as part of NESC’s 5th edition, which, among other guidelines, required marking lines and prohibiting use of metal or metal-reinforced tapes, hoses, or flashlights around energized parts

1955: American Public Power Association published first edition of its Safety Manual

1960: NESC 6th edition published, the first done through a consensus process, and included voltage classifications and changed phase-to-ground voltage and ground clearances

1972: IEEE takes over as Secretariat for NESC

1977: Overhead clearances of energized equipment expanded to at least 8.5’

1984: IEEE NESC Handbook first published as a handy companion to NESC

1993: Employee training on suitable clothing combinations mandated in NESC update

1997: Significant revisions to strength requirements

2002: Minimum distance between hydrants and poles expanded from 3’ to 4’

2007: Code specifies that structures, such as pools, cannot be placed above underground cables

2007: Association’s Mike Hyland begins a decade of leadership as chair of NESC

2012: Minimum approach tables simplified, requires assessing exposure for arc flash for lower voltages

2017: Requires fall protection equipment for work performed on poles or towers

2017: The Association releases 16th edition of its Safety Manual

timeline of national electrical safety code and key areas covered