Keeping corporations happy while ensuring necessary safety standards can be tricky for state governments, especially when major companies are threatening to leave the state all together if their demands aren't met. But National Electrical Manufacturing Association (NEMA) West Coast field representative Joe Andre is concerned that a few states in his region have gone too far to meet these demands. It started in 2003, when the State of Washington began to recognize other non-U.S. standards for industrial equipment, including Europe's IEC, even though many of these standards are not harmonized with the U.S. electrical system.

“The problem that we see is that the equipment wasn't built to be installed on a system that was constructed to the National Electrical Code in this country,” Andre says. “As a stand-alone piece of equipment, we wouldn't have a problem with any standard. But when you start connecting it to a system that it wasn't built for, you introduce a lot of question marks, and some of those might be considered hazardous.”

Last year, Oregon went a step further, exempting industrial equipment from requiring any kind of permits, inspections, or third-party certification or evaluation. “Nobody actually looks at it, so anything can come in and be hooked up — and the inspection agencies don't have any control over it whatsoever,” Andre says.

Andre has testified in both Washington and Oregon about the potential hazards of their policies. He says his NEMA counterparts in North Carolina are addressing similar concerns in that state.

These policies remain unchanged at present. However, in Washington, Andre says incorporated cities are allowed to have their own electrical programs. “To my knowledge, every city in the state that does its own electrical inspections has refused to recognize the state's allowance of international standards,” he says. “They've required U.S. standards for equipment going into the city.”

The situation is different in Oregon, where cities are not allowed to impose requirements that are different from what the state requires. Still, Washington and Oregon's reluctance to impose stricter requirements on industrial equipment might stem from the fact that no injuries or other industrial equipment problems have been linked to these new standards.