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Section 01: Introduction to the National

Electrical Safety Code

1. Section 01: Introduction to the National Electrical

Safety Code

1.1. 010. PURPOSE

The very first rule in the NESC outlines the purpose of the entire book. The rules
contained in the NESC are provided for the "practical safeguarding of persons
and utility facilities during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric
supply and communication facilities, under specified conditions." The persons the
Code is referring to are both the public and utility workers (employees and
contractors). The utility facilities the Code is referring to are electric supply
stations (covered in Part 1), overhead supply and communication lines (covered
in Part 2), and underground supply and communication lines (covered in Part 3).
Utility facilities also include electric supply and communication equipment
connected to utility facilities, for example, a pole-top transformer connected to an
overhead supply line, a pad-mounted transformer connected to an underground
supply line, or a communications amplifier connected to an overhead or
underground communications line.

The Code uses the term electric supply for electric power. The Code also covers
communications lines and equipment. Communications utilities include, but are
not limited to, telephone, cable TV, and fiber utilities.

The NESC is a standard published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic

Engineers (IEEE). It is a recognized standard for utility company safety. It is
adopted by utilities or by an authority having jurisdiction over utilities (i.e., a
state public service commission or public utility commission) or by some other
authority. To determine the specific legal status of the NESC, the authority
having jurisdiction must be contacted. In general, utilities in 49 of the 50 United
States use the NESC. The exception is the State of California which writes its own
codes titled, General Order 95 (GO95) (Overhead Lines), General Order 128
(GO128) (Underground Lines), and General Order 165 (GO165) (Inspection).

The Code contains the basic provisions necessary for safety under specified
conditions. The Code is not intended to be a design specification or instruction
manual. The Code specifies what needs to be accomplished for safety, not how to
accomplish it. Values for clearance and structure strength must be not less than
the values indicated in the Code for safety purposes. Clearance and strength
values can certainly be greater than the Code specifies, but greater values are
not required for safety.

For example, if the Code clearance of a 12.47/7.2-kV phase conductor is 18.5 ft

over the ground, the Code does not specify how high the poles have to be or
where the wires are attached on the pole to obtain the 18.5-ft clearance.
Selecting the proper pole heights and attachment heights is a design function.
The Code does require that the phase wires be not less than 18.5 ft high (they
can certainly be higher). Some utilities establish clearance values by using the
Code clearance plus an adder. The adder can be thought of as a design or
construction tolerance adder to maintain the required Code clearance. A line
designed for exactly 18.5 ft of clearance over the ground could end up having
problems meeting Code. There are several factors that could jeopardize the 18.5-
ft clearance. One factor could be that the pole hole was dug 6 in deeper than it
should have been dug. Another factor might be a slight rise in elevation at
midspan that was not detected due to the fact that the ground line was not
profiled or surveyed. Other factors that can jeopardize clearance include wire
stringing issues, leaning poles, leaning cross-arms, etc. Using a clearance adder
(e.g., 3 ft ) would require designing the line to 21.5 ft instead of 18.5 ft. The
clearance adder can also help meet and maintain the required Code clearance
over time. See Rule 230I for an additional discussion of maintaining clearances
over the life of an installation.

There are many design standards available for utility companies to reference. The
Rural Utilities Service (RUS) publishes transmission, distribution, and substation
design manuals. Many larger utilities develop their own design manuals. Each
manual written must be in compliance with the Code, as the Code is the "bible"
for all utility work.

The Code states that rules apply to specified conditions. One example of the
specified conditions is overhead line clearance for open supply conductors, 750
V–22 kV, over a road subject to truck traffic (NESC Table 232-1, Row 2). In NESC
Appendix A (NESC Fig. A-1), the Code shows the reference component (of a
truck) to be 14 ft. The mechanical and electrical clearance component for a
conductor shown in this figure is 4.5 ft, for a total of 18.5 ft of clearance when the
conductor is at the maximum sag condition. The specified conditions for the
maximum sag of the conductor can be found in NESC Rules 230B and 232A.
These are the specified conditions associated with the 18.5 ft of clearance. If an
overhead line is being designed for a mining installation and the conditions are
that 22-ft-high trucks are used, then this condition requires that the same line be
designed with a 26.5-ft clearance (22′ + 4.5′ = 26.5′) at the maximum sag of the

The first rule in the Code is a good place to discuss the format and numbering
system used in the Code. The following are the main parts of the Code:

General Sections 01, 02, 03, and 09 (Introduction, Definitions, References, and
Grounding Methods)

Part 1–Electric Supply Stations (Commonly referred to as substations)

Part 2–Overhead Lines (Power and communications)

Part 3–Underground Lines (Power and communications)

Part 4–Work Rules (Power and communications, similar OSHA Standards apply)

An example of rule numbering is shown in Fig. 010-1.

Figure 010-1. Example of rule numbering (Rule 010).

1.2. 011. SCOPE

This rule defines what is covered in the National Electrical Safety Code and
what is not covered. The NESC covers supply and communication facilities and
associated work practices carried out by a supply or communications utility
company or an entity functioning as a utility. In general, the NESC applies to
electric supply (power) and communications utilities. Communications utilities
include, but are not limited to, telephone, cable TV, and fiber utilities. An example
of an organization not normally thought of as a utility but functioning as a utility
could be a university campus system or a large industrial complex that owns a
utility-voltage distribution system. The NESC covers functions of utilities
including generation of energy or communication signals and transmission and
distribution to the service point.

The NESC does not cover utilization wiring in buildings. The standard that does
cover building wiring is the National Electrical Code (NEC). The NEC is the "bible"
for the electrical building industry and is used primarily by engineers and
electricians. The NESC is the "bible" used primarily by utility engineers and utility
linemen. See Fig. 011-1.

Figure 011-1. Differences between the NESC and the NEC (Rule 011).

In places the NESC and the NEC overlap or come close to overlapping. One
location is at the service to a building. The NESC contains NESC Fig. 011-1 which
is a one-line diagram showing the dividing line between an electric supply utility
and a premises (i.e., building) wiring system. The one-line diagram does not show
a meter which would normally exist at or near the service point. For an overhead
electric service, the typical dividing point between the NESC and the NEC is the
conductor splice at the weatherhead. This is the dividing line between the electric
utility function and the electric utilization function. For underground electric
services the typical dividing point can vary. Some utilities provide service to the
terminals on the meter base. Others provide service to the property line and the
customer provides wiring after that point. Sometimes a utility will have the
customer install secondary wiring from the pad mount transformer to the meter
but then the utility will take ownership of this wiring. To determine whether the
circuit is covered under the NESC or the NEC, the ownership of the circuit and
who maintains and controls the circuit are important factors to consider. Some
utilities use a direct buried splice or a junction box under the meter base to
provide a clear transition point between the two codes. The tariff that the utility
has on file with the State Public Service Commission or Public Utility Commission
may also help define the service point of the utility. See Fig. 011-2.

Figure 011-2. Typical dividing lines between the NESC and the NEC (Rule
011). See also photo(s) in App. A.

The dividing line between the NESC and the NEC for an overhead or underground
communications (e.g., phone, cable TV, or fiber utility) service is typically the
network interface device or demarcation box installed on the building being
served. The demarcation box typically has a compartment for the
communications company service wires and a separate compartment for the
building communications cabling. This separates the utility communications
function from the building communications function.

Another item that is covered by both the NESC and NEC is street and area
lighting. Control of the street and area lighting is the important factor to consider
when determining whether street and area lighting is covered under the NESC or
the NEC. Street and area lighting that is metered usually falls under NEC
requirements. Street and area lighting that is not metered and is owned,
operated, and maintained by the utility typically is covered under the NESC. The
main differences between street and area lighting covered under the NESC and
street and area lighting covered under the NEC are grounding methods and
overcurrent protection requirements. NESC street and area lights are typically
operated and maintained by power linemen and NEC street and area lights are
typically operated and maintained by electricians. Examples of street lighting
systems covered by the NESC and NEC are shown in Fig. 011-3.

Figure 011-3. Examples of NESC and NEC street lighting systems (Rule
011). See also photo(s) in App. A.
The NESC does not cover installations in mines (underground), ships, railway
rolling equipment, aircraft, or automotive equipment. These industries have their
own standards. See Rules 101 and 301 for a discussion of utilization wiring in
Parts 1 and 3.

Section 02, Definitions of Special Terms, provides definitions of the terms

"delivery point" for one utility delivering energy or signals to another utility and
"service point" for determining the dividing line between the serving utility
(supply or communication) and the premises wiring. A clear separation between
the NESC and the NEC can be determined by applying NESC Rule 011 and using
the definitions in NESC Sec. 02 and by referencing the corresponding scope rule
in the front of the NEC.

Although not specifically addressed in Rule 011, the NESC does not cover
easement conditions, environmental protection, raptor (bird) protection, FCC
regulations, FAA regulations, NERC standards, electromagnetic fields (emf),
settings for protective device coordination, or construction, operation, and
maintenance cost issues. These items are either covered by other standards or
they do not present a safety concern or they are simply addressed in the NESC
and accepted good practice (Rule 012C) must be applied.

The NESC includes rules for physical loads (e.g., wind, ice, weight, wire tension,
etc.) and strength of materials (e.g., wood, steel, concrete fiberglass, etc.), rules
for clearances and spacings, rules for grounding, and rules for safe work


This rule provides three general rules for applying the Code. Rule 012A requires
that the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and
communication lines equipment must be in accordance with the NESC. Rule
012B requires that utilities or other organizations performing work for the utility,
such as a contractor, are the responsible parties for meeting NESC requirements
for design, construction, operation, and maintenance. Rule 012C acknowledges
that the Code cannot cover every conceivable situation. Where the scope of the
NESC applies and the Code does not specify a rule to cover a particular
installation, construction and maintenance should be done in accordance with
"accepted good practice" for the local conditions known at the time. This does not
allow the Code to be ignored for a condition that is covered in the Code. If
"accepted good practice" is needed because a specific Code rule does not exist,
a comparable NESC rule or the National Electrical Code (NEC) can be referenced
to find an "accepted good practice." Other standards can also be referenced or
"accepted good practice" may be determined by reviewing utility operating
records to find out what safe practices are practical for the local conditions. Rule
012 applies to both supply and communication utilities during the design,
construction, operation, and maintenance of lines and equipment. The NESC
applies during the initial design and construction and during the life of the
installation (i.e., during operation and maintenance).


New installations and extensions are covered under Rule 013A. This rule clearly
states that all new installations and extensions must adhere to the provisions of
the NESC. Rule 013A1 does allow the administrative authority (i.e., the public
service or public utility commission) to waive or modify the NESC rules if safety is
provided in other ways. An example is listed in the Code to clarify this statement.
Rule 013A2 recognizes that new types of construction and methods may be used
experimentally to obtain information even if they are not covered in the Code.
This can be done if three conditions are met. Qualified supervision must be
provided. One example of qualified supervision is supervision under the direction
of a registered professional engineer who is using engineering judgment and
collecting data on the new construction. Equivalent safety must be provided. On
joint-use (power and communications) facilities, all affected users must be
notified in a timely manner. Since the Code is on a 5-year revision cycle, many
times new construction methods arise during the 5-year period and then are
included in a future edition of the Code.

Rule 013B discusses how the Code is applied to existing installations. Many
people use the term "grandfather clause" when discussing this rule. The
"grandfather clause" concept appears simple; however, caution must be used
when applying this rule. Rule 013B1 states that if an existing installation meets or
is altered to meet the current NESC, the installation is considered to be in
compliance with the current edition and is not required to comply with any
previous edition. Rule 013B2 states that existing installations, including
maintenance replacements, that comply with a prior edition of the Code, need
not be modified to comply with the current edition. Rule 013B2 can be applied to
changes in the Code. Changes from the previous edition are indicated by a
vertical black bar in the left margin of the NESC Codebook. Applying Rule 013B2
eliminates the need to alter existing installations that do not comply with a new
rule in the current edition (assuming the installation complied with the Code at
the time the line was built). Two exceptions apply: modifications may be required
for safety reasons by the administrative authority (i.e., public service or public
utility commission) and use of the current edition of Rule 238C is required when a
structure (e.g., pole) is replaced. See Rules 202 and 238C for additional

Rule 013B3 specifically discusses conductors and equipment that are added,
altered, or replaced on an existing structure. Rule 013B3 states that the structure
or the facilities on the structure need not be modified or replaced if the resulting
installation will be in compliance with either:

The Code rules that were in effect at the time of the original installation,

The Code rules in effect in a subsequent edition to which the installation has
been previously brought into compliance, or

The rules of the current edition.

Choosing the third bullet in the list above (the rules of the current edition) results
in using the best Code information available as the NESC has evolved and
improved over time. Choosing the first or second bullet in the list above is
acceptable as the Code provides a choice of any one of the three options.
However, if the first or second bullet is chosen, caution needs to be taken to
determine if the existing installation complies with a prior Code. If the second
bullet in the list above applies (bringing an installation into compliance with a
subsequent edition), then the first bullet (the rules in effect at the time of the
original installation) no longer applies.

The last paragraph of Rule 013B3 addresses how to work on a structure (e.g.,
pole) that has a violation. This paragraph points to the inspection rules in Part 2
(Overhead Lines), not Part 1 (Electric Supply Stations) or Part 3 (Underground
Lines). Rule 214 requires inspections. When a condition or defect is found that
affects compliance with the Code (i.e., a violation), Rules 214A4 and 214A5
address the timeline to correct the violation. The timeline is not addressed with
hard numbers like a day, a week, a month, a year, etc., the rules only provide
general wording. If a violation is not corrected, it must be recorded until the
correction is done. The last paragraph of Rule 013B3 addresses how to work on a
structure (e.g., pole) that has a violation but the violation has not yet been
corrected. If the work to be done on the structure in itself does not create a
structural, clearance, or grounding violation or worsen an existing violation, then
the work on the structure can be done without fixing the existing recorded
violation. In other words, the existing recorded violation can be done at a later
date. If these conditions are not met, the existing recorded violation must be
corrected at the same time the other work is done or the other work must be
postponed until the recorded violation is corrected. One example is adding a new
service drop (power or communications) to a pole that has some other recorded
violation. If adding the service drop meets the requirements in Rule 013B3 (in
itself, adding the service drop does not create a structural, clearance, or
grounding violation or worsen an existing violation), then the service drop can be
added without fixing the other recorded violation at the same time.

Normally electric supply and communication engineers have the most current
codebook sitting upon their desks and field workers do not have prior codebooks
lying around in their trucks. Even if something as simple as adding a transformer
to an existing installation or replacing an existing pole is being done, the utility
performing the work must be careful not to blindly assume that the existing
situation complies with a prior Code. Utilities may want to consult the advice of a
legal professional when applying Rule 013B as interpreting this rule from a legal
viewpoint can be as critical as interpreting it from a technical viewpoint. Although
not a Code requirement, a simple solution to eliminate the complexities of
applying the "grandfather clause" is to use the current edition of the NESC for
existing installations that require maintenance replacements or additions,
alterations, or replacements.

The application of a "grandfather clause" should not be confused with

maintaining clearances or a change in land use under a supply or
communications line. See Rule 230I for a discussion.

Rule 013C requires that inspections of new and existing facilities meet the
inspection rules in the current edition of the NESC, not prior editions. Inspections
of electric supply stations are covered in Rule 121, inspections of overhead lines
are covered in Rule 214, and inspections of underground lines are covered in
Rule 313. Rule 013C also requires that work performed on new and existing
facilities meet the work rules in Part 4 of the current edition of the NESC, not
prior editions.


In this rule the Code recognizes the need to waive or modify rules in cases of
emergency or temporary installations. The Code grants the person responsible
for the installation the ability to modify or waive rules with specific requirements.
Rule 014A for emergency installations applies to both overhead and underground
lines. Rule 014B for temporary installations applies only to overhead lines. The
Code does not specify a time length for temporary installations or define an
emergency installation. The Code makes it very clear that temporary
installations may not have reduced clearance. Strength reductions for temporary
service are also addressed in NESC Table 261-1, Footnote 4, which does not use
the same wording as Rule 014. See Fig. 014-1 for a summary of the requirements
of Rule 014.

Figure 014-1. Summary of the requirements for emergency and temporary

installations (Rule 014).

1.6. 015. INTENT

This rule defines three key NESC words: "shall," "should," and
"RECOMMENDATION." Code rules containing the word "shall" indicate that the
rule is mandatory and the rule must be met. Not complying with a rule that
contains the word "shall" is a direct Code violation. Code rules containing the
word "should" indicate requirements that are normally and generally practical for
the specified conditions. The Code does recognize that under certain
circumstances some rules may not be practical. Where this is the case, the word
"should" is used. Under the definition of "should," the Code references Rule 012
that requires "accepted good practice" to be used. If at all possible the words
"should" and "shall" should be considered the same. If it is not possible to treat
"should" the same as "shall," it is prudent to carefully review the specific
conditions that prohibit a utility from applying the Code rule that contains the
word "should" and it is prudent to apply an "accepted good practice" that
provides an equivalent degree of safety for the specific conditions. The Code
uses the word "RECOMMENDATION" for provisions that are considered desirable
but not intended to be mandatory. "RECOMMENDATION" is the least stringent of
the three terms "shall," "should," and "RECOMMENDATION." Since the Code does
consider a "RECOMMENDATION" desirable, it seems prudent that the utility make
some effort to comply with a "RECOMMENDATION" even though it is not

Rule 015 also contains clarifications of the words "NOTE," "EXAMPLE," and
"footnote." "NOTES" and "EXAMPLES" are not mandatory, and they are provided
for information and illustrative purposes but are not considered part of the Code
requirements. "Footnotes," however, are used for tables throughout the Code
and they carry the full force and effect of the table or rule with which they are

An "EXCEPTION" to a rule has the same force as the rule itself. Exceptions are not
reduced safety measures. For example, if a clearance value is reduced by an
exception, some condition associated with the exception may be provided to
maintain safety. Typically, the Code provides a larger value in the rule and
smaller value in the exception.

The physical location of the words "RECOMMENDATION," "EXCEPTION," and

"NOTE," and how these words are indented with respect to other text, signifies to
what rule the "RECOMMENDATION," "EXCEPTION," or "NOTE" applies.


This rule states that the 2012 edition of the NESC may be used at any time on or
after publication date. In addition, this edition shall become effective no later
than the first day of the month after 180 days following the publication date. The
effective date applies to the design and approval process, not just the
construction date. If the design or approval for a new installation or extension was
started before the effective date, the prior Code may be used. The example in
this rule indicates the 2012 NESC publication date of August 1, 2011 and
establishes February 1, 2012 as the effective date. The note in this rule explains
that the 180-day (6-month) grace period allows utilities and other agencies to
acquire copies of the Code and revise regulations, standards, and procedures.
The note also clarifies that this edition is not required to be used before the 180-
day period; however, it is not prohibited to use it during this period.

The NESC is a standard published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic

Engineers (IEEE). For the NESC to become a legal requirement, it is typically
adopted by a state authority having jurisdiction over utilities (i.e., a public service
commission or public utility commission) or by some other authority. To
determine the specific legal status of the NESC, the authority having jurisdiction
must be contacted.


The Code uses the metric system as the primary unit for numerical values. The
customary (English or inch-foot-pound) system is the secondary system. In the
text of the Code, metric values are shown first with the customary inch-foot-
pound system shown second and inside parentheses. Some tables in the Code
have the metric and English system in the same table. Other more complex
tables have separate tables. When separate tables are used, the first table in the
Code will be the metric table and the second table will be the English table.
Metric values are based on the current version of the metric system titled, "The
International System of Units" (or SI). The values in each system are rounded to
convenient numbers. An exact conversion is not used so that the values appear
functional for safety purposes (e.g., rounded to the nearest half foot or tenth of a
meter). IEEE (the publishers of the Code) have chosen the metric system as the
primary unit of measure as IEEE publishes around the globe. Units of measure
discussed in this Handbook are based on the customary (English or inch-foot-
pound) system.

Rule 017B states that physical items referenced in the Code are in "nominal
values" unless specific dimensions are provided. Other standards may set
tolerances for manufacturing. An example of nominal values is shown in Fig. 017-
Figure 017-1. Example of nominal values (Rule 017B). See also photo(s) in
App. A.


Rule 018 provides rounding requirements. In general, rounding "off" to the

nearest significant digit is required unless otherwise specified in applicable rules.
One rule that requires a different rounding method is Rule 230A4, which requires
rounding "up" for clearance calculations as Sec. 23 deals with various overhead
line clearances which are typically specified as "not less than" clearances.
Rounding "off" follows the rules of traditional rounding learned in math class. An
example of rounding "off" is rounding 20.02 down to 20.0 or rounding 20.66 up to
20.7. An example of rounding "up" for "not less than" clearance is rounding 20.02
to 20.1 because rounding "off" to 20.0 would not meet a clearance required to be
"not less than" 20.02. See Rule 230A4 for additional information.

David J. Marne, P.E., B.S.E.E.: McGraw-Hill's National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)
2017 Handbook. Section 01: Introduction to the National Electrical Safety Code,
Chapter (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2017), AccessEngineering

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