The hearing

The Council held a hearing on the question on July 19, 1995. Speaking in favor of sustaining the floor action and including the zone concept included Don Zipse and Craig Wellman, who had submitted formal complaints to the Council. Under NFPA rules, a complaint is "any request submitted in writing to the Standards Council for a reversal or modification of any action taken by any Technical Committee, Technical Correlating Committee, the Association, or the Standards Council, at any time in the document development process."

They, along with others, made the point that the concept was well supported by widespread international experience. Due to world-wide acceptance, it would promote international harmonization of standards. It could increase safety in the high-hazard Zone 0 areas, where power wiring is prohibited.

Bill Wusinich, representing the IBEW, had also submitted a formal complaint, in his case opposing the floor amendment. He was joined by brother union member Jim Naughton and also by Joe Ross of NEMA and Lon Ballard of Crouse Hinds. They argued that there is significant confusion over the concept that could lead to improper installations. They questioned if the proposal was completely thought through. For example, Article 501 is about five times the length of new Article 505 on the same subject. Joe Pipkin, who works for OSHA and sits on the Correlating Committee, expressed the opinion that OSHA wouldn't go along with the new approach.

Although the panel had said the new approach shouldn't be intermixed with traditional classification procedures, the actual text doesn't match that intention. For example, Sec. 501-11 provides specific rules for mixers that travel in and out of open mixing vats, which is normally a Zone 0 location (hazardous vapors routinely present in ignitable concentrations); would designers be able to describe this as Class 1 Div. 1 and then classify immediately adjacent areas as Class I Zone 1 simply based on which classification is more convenient, or even jointly classify the same area?

The concept has been discussed for over 25 years, beginning with a 1969 proposal to include it in the 1971 NEC. The arguments at that time are striking in that they are so identical to contemporary views on the same topic. Those in favor mentioned international trade and analogized to the subdivision of hazardous locations in the 1947 NEC (the advent of Div. 1 and Div. 2) so the tightest requirements would be targeted at areas with the greatest hazard. Those opposed questioned whether the effort was really needed, since the present system had proved its safety.

Don Zipse pleaded with the Council to proceed, noting that Article 780 ("Smart House") went into the Code before any facilities using those concepts had ever been built. If that could go ahead, why not a concept that had been used for a quarter of a century in extensive areas of the world? Surely if there were problems, and he acknowledged that there were, they could be resolved over the normal course of the standards making process, using Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs) if necessary.

The decision

The Council voted to uphold the action at the Annual Meeting, and to correlate that action with parallel action on related comments. The result is that a number of public comments (14-13, -30, -45, -171a, -174, -174a, -177, -178, -179, -182), which had been reported as "reject" are now in place as accepted at the panel meeting.

In its decision, the Council noted the long history of this proposal in the NEC revision process and the widespread use of the concept throughout much of the world. The Council noted that at the end of the process, it had received the support of both the Association membership and the Code Making Panel. Therefore, the Council declared that technical consensus had been achieved.

The Council noted that the Correlating Committee had not cited any technical objections to the concept, but that instead the basis for its objections lay in correlation problems with other actions. The Council's actions on the related proposals resolved some of those issues, and the others will be addressed in future actions.

Mr. Wellman also raised the issue of how the Council judges Technical Committee (particularly CMP 14) balance in his complaint. He felt that the user classification should be allotted greater representation (up to 50%). The user members of CMP 14 had consistently voted unanimously in favor of the new Zone concept, and they had been thwarted by other interests at times.

The Council voted to deny this portion of the complaint and to reaffirm support for the present procedures, with no interest group having more than one third of a committee. The Council concluded that "the need for a balance of interests on committees continues to be served by this rule."

The issues in this appeal are so important, and the opposing sides so intransigent, it is a virtual certainty that the Council decision will be appealed to the NFPA Board of Directors. If that happens, the 1996 NEC will still be printed as released by the Council, but a disclaimer will be printed in the front of the book notifying users of the pending appeal.