ROSSLYN, Va. - The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has taken a position advocating direct adoption of the latest edition of the National Electrical Code by governmental agencies. The association's new policy is being communicated directly to the International Code Council (ICC) and is intended to clarify the association's position in a contentious debate between the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the ICC.

In the most recent development, NFPA announced that it was moving forward in the development of NFPA's Consensus Code - a full set of codes for existing buildings. That announcement followed on the heels of one by the ICC saying that it was not able to meet an NFPA-imposed deadline to respond to its final offer to partner with ICC in the development of a single family of comprehensive and coordinated model codes and regulations. In 1999, the ICC published an electrical code that was ostensibly an administrative document describing how a jurisdiction adopts, implements, and enforces an electrical code. The document contained prescriptive requirements, however, and thus was viewed by critics as a challenge to the NEC. Prior to that, in 1997, the ICC and NFPA attempted to work together to develop a joint fire prevention code. The working arrangement disintegrated due to differences over who should participate in the development.

NEMA has traditionally been involved in the development of the NEC, believing that electrical installation and inspection laws should protect the public from personal and property hazards and that adoption of the code by local governments was the best way to achieve that goal.

The NEC is developed through an ANSI-recognized consensus process whereby all interested parties have an opportunity to contribute to and vote on the document. The ICC process under which the ICC Electrical Code is developed, allows the opportunity to submit proposals and comments, but does not as a matter of course include manufacturers, users, enforcers, installers, utilities, testing labs, and electrical workers.

In the rationale presented to the NEMA Board of Governors prior to its action on the matter, NEMA President Malcolm O'Hagan said, "Having two different electrical codes could (1) lead to confusion concerning installation and enforcement requirements which can create safety issues; (2) force organizations to expend additional resources to participate in the development of multiple codes; and (3) in the worst case, force manufacturers to maintain multiple product lines if uniform product requirements are not adopted nationwide."

The board action aside, it seems certain that there will be at least two building code, one issued by the ICC and issued by the NFPA. NEMA will continue to submit proposals and comments on the ICC Electrical Code and participate in public hearings as appropriate, but ICC rules currently preclude NEMA direct involvement in ICC code development.

NFPA has enlisted the Western Fire Chiefs Association and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials to participate in its proposed Consensus Codes. As part of that project, NFPA is developing the NFPA Building Code, a draft of which will be made available on the Internet at buildingcode.nfpa.org.

The NFPA Building Code project (NFPA 5000) includes a committee structure consisting of a new building-code technical correlating committee that will have responsibility for the development and release of NFPA 5000 and will oversee the activities of a number of technical committees.

According to NEMA, the correlating committee's scope will "have primary responsibility for documents or portions of documents on the design and construction of every building or structure, including structural design methods and techniques, as well as the design of integrated building systems for health, safety, comfort and convenience."