AUTHOR: Corey Hannahs

Building a snowman

Electrical and Fire Safety Considerations At Home During the Cold Winter Months

Looking outside your window at the dropping thermometer or stepping outside to be met by the brisk air are both reminders that it is time to dig the snow shovels and snowblowers out of the back of the garage. Being an electrician, when I think about home responsibility and safety during the wintertime, my natural tendency is to look at it from an electrical perspective. But as  a homeowner, I also need to be considerate of best practices around fire safety. Changes to what we do outside and inside of our homes through the winter months present both electrical and fire safety risks that can be properly managed by both awareness and following the proper code requirements, in all codes that apply. As we transition into these winter months, there are requirements in both the NFPA 1 Fire Code and NFPA 70® National Electrical Code® (NEC®) that must be followed to ensure the safety of your home. Winter just wouldn’t be winter without holiday lighting. Ensuring that the holiday lighting is listed and, where installed outdoors is rated for the application, is a great start. But often, the outdoor holiday lighting masterpieces installed in the coming months are also inclusive of extension cords and relocatable power taps (more commonly known as “power strips”) as well. As was the case with holiday lights, extension cords and relocatable power taps should also be listed and rated for the environment in which they are installed. Improper use of any or all of these components within holiday lighting not only has the ability to pose an electrical safety risk to the home, but a fire safety risk as well. NFPA 1 has code requirements, which are also relevant when it comes to electrical installations, that apply to both extension cords and relocatable power taps. Some of those NFPA 1 requirements being: Extension cords shall be plugged directly into an approved receptacle, power tap, or multiplug adapter and shall, except for approved multiplug extension cords, serve only one portable appliance. [1:11.1.5.1] Extension cords shall be maintained in good condition without splices, deterioration, or damage. [1:11.1.5.3] Extension cords and flexible cords shall not be affixed to structures; extend through walls, ceilings, or floors, or under doors or floor coverings; or be subject to environmental or physical damage [1:11.1.5.5] Relocatable power taps shall be listed to UL 1363, Relocatable Power Taps, or UL 1363A, Outline of Investigation for Special Purpose Relocatable Power Taps, where applicable. [1:11.1.4.1] The relocatable power taps shall be directly connected to a permanently installed receptacle. [1:11.1.4.2] Relocatable power tap cords shall not extend through walls, ceilings, or floors; under doors or floor coverings; or be subject to environmental or physical damage. [1:11.1.4.3] When looking at the way a typical holiday lighting installation may be performed by those that may not be aware of these safety requirements, there are several things that stand out. Extension cords are not permitted to be plugged into other extension cords, rather they should only be plugged into an approved receptacle, power tap, or multiplug adapter. Because extension cords must be in good condition and free from damage, that rules out the extension cord that got caught up in the hedge trimmers during the summer and now has the damaged area wrapped in electrical tape. Relocatable power taps cannot be “daisy chained” by plugging into other relocatable power taps; they can only be plugged directly into a permanently installed receptacle. Both extension cords and relocatable power taps are not permitted to be installed where subject to environmental or physical damage. Furthermore, extension cords are not permitted to be affixed to structures, such as homes.   One area where both NFPA 1 and the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) align in their requirements is around the timeframe that holiday lighting can be installed. NEC section 590.3(B), which is directly referenced in NFPA 1 section 11.1.6.3.2, states that holiday lighting cannot be installed for more than 90 days. So, for individuals who get really excited about the holidays and install their holiday lights in early October, that means they will need to be taken down close to the first of the year to meet the 90-day requirement. Also from an NEC perspective, it is critical to ensure that all of your exterior holiday lighting is plugged into a GFCI receptacle that has been tested to be functional and working properly.   When the temperature in the house falls, the heat comes on. While likely the most common, gas-forced air furnaces are not the only way in which a home is heated. Boilers, heat pumps, and electricity are also utilized to heat homes. From an electrical perspective, electric furnaces, baseboard heat, plug-in space heaters, and electric fireplaces may also be utilized. With electrical equipment that is utilized to produce heat, it is important to understand that it puts a tremendous load on the electrical system. Circuits that operated normally throughout other parts of the year can now become overloaded when heating items, like portable space heaters, are plugged in during the winter months. When it comes to portable space heaters, it is also important to note that while it is heating your space, you need to maintain space between the heater and any combustible materials. In a home heating fires report published by NFPA in January 2021, fixed and portable space heaters were responsible for 81 percent of civilian deaths. That number is overwhelming considering the next closest equipment responsible for civilian deaths were fireplaces and chimneys at nine percent.   Because of the changes in the way homes are used when the cold weather sets in, both electrical and fire safety must be evaluated based on the change in use.  As we move into these chilly months, it’s important to stay keenly aware of the changing environment and implement the safety measures that are necessary to keep your home safe. Winter is coming… Please visit the NFPA public education page for more information on how to keep your home safe this winter and throughout the rest of the year.

Electrical Safety Tips for Users of E-Bikes and E-Scooters

A version of this article will appear in the In Compliance section of the Winter 2022 issue of NFPA Journal.  Recent discussions around electric micromobility devices, such as e-bikes and e-scooters, have left a lot of people rather charged up. Proposed changes by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), for example, would prohibit residents and guests from keeping e-bikes or e-scooters within NYCHA apartments or building common areas. Delivery workers have raised concerns that such a ban would adversely affect their livelihoods, since charging the e-bikes that they use to make deliveries would no longer be possible in their homes.  Watch a related video on e-bike and e-scooter fire safety Big cities aren’t the only places where authorities have moved to ban e-bikes or e-scooters from buildings. Mackinac Island, a small vacation island in northern Michigan, has become well-known for regulating the means of transportation that are permitted on the island. Since 1901, automotive transportation has been banned, leaving most travel to be done on foot, by bicycle, or by horse and carriage. Not long ago, island authorities banned e-bikes within certain buildings and have further prohibited the use of e-bikes that have functional throttles when traveling around the island. (For an overview of the safety hazards associated with electric micromobility devices and the regulations proposed to address those hazards, see “Full Throttle,” a feature story that appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of NFPA Journal.) SAFETY RESOURCES: Visit nfpa.org/ebikes to explore other NFPA resources related to e-bike and e-scooter fire safety Improving e-bike and e-scooter safety is providing much of the momentum behind these changes. In 2022 alone, the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) has reported investigating 130 fires related to lithium-ion batteries regularly used to power e-bikes—fires that have resulted in five deaths and dozens of injuries. In October, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled about 22,000 e-bikes whose “lithium-ion batteries can ignite, explode, or spark, posing fire, explosion, and burn hazards to consumers,” CPSC wrote in a statement. Investigators say a fire that killed an 8-year-old girl in Queens last month was likely ignited by an e-bike battery charging inside an apartment unit overnight. A fire in December 2021 killed a New York City man who was running a business charging e-bikes within his residence. Two teenagers narrowly escaped the same fire themselves by shimmying down a pipe mounted to the building’s exterior wall. Over the summer on Mackinac Island, an e-bike battery that exploded and melted left both the homeowner and firefighters with injuries related to smoke inhalation. In all of these cases, the personal decisions made by individuals to charge e-bikes in their homes left others in harm’s way. While there are no specific codes in place for the charging of e-bikes or e-scooters themselves, there are portions of codes, including NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), that can help people be safer while doing so. There are also additional areas that can be addressed to further ensure safer charging.  Avoid overloading circuits and overcharging batteries Electricity is necessary to charge e-bike batteries, meaning the battery being charged and the device charging the battery can be potential fire hazards. An aspect that can sometimes be overlooked, though, is that the structural wiring within the building can be a risk as well. Ensuring that the electrical infrastructure in the building is properly installed and capable of delivering electricity for safe charging is where the NEC comes into play. If we consider the deadly NYC fire that killed the man who was charging e-bikes out of his residence, we can assume that overloading the circuit may have been part of the issue. When multiple e-bikes are being charged at once, the load on the circuit supplying power for charging increases. Another scenario that could have compounded the imposed load on the circuit is that it was a continuous load. The NEC defines a continuous load as one where the maximum current is expected to continue for three hours or more and requires any continuous loads to be factored in at 125 percent. As an example, a 20-amp circuit is only permitted to be loaded to 16 amps when continuous loads are involved (16-amp continuous load x 125 percent = 20 amps). With e-bikes being charged for over three hours and multiple e-bikes being charged simultaneously, the circuit could have easily been highly overloaded, which could have begun degradation of the wiring, causing it to eventually break down and become a possible ignition source. Furthermore, overcharging batteries is something that an individual can easily do without intending to, but it can have a catastrophic effect resulting in fires and death. Recently, Inside Edition released a video that shows the impact that overcharging batteries can have and how quickly micromobility devices can burst into flames because of it. It is crucial that individuals that are charging the batteries of micromobility devices follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper charging and do not overcharge the batteries. Overcharging not only puts their own lives at risk but also the lives of many others. Look for listed devices, batteries, and charging equipment Another area that must be considered around e-bike charging safety is the product itself. Consumers should be sure that they are purchasing a high-quality product that has been listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly. Part of the charger system evaluation is the plug-in charger itself. It is important for consumers to understand that the charger that comes with the e-bike is what gets tested as part of the listing and therefore is the only charger that should be utilized. Buying an aftermarket charger from another manufacturer could likely invalidate the listing of the e-bike and may contribute to the additional risk of a fire due to compatibility not being tested between the e-bike and the charger. There are many products out there that may be noted as compatible with an e-bike, but they may not be listed to work with a specific e-bike.  The importance of using e-bikes and products that are listed was echoed in July when Heather Mason, president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, encouraged their vendors and suppliers to certify their e-bikes to UL 2849, Standard for Electrical Systems for eBikes. “The bicycle industry needs to take immediate action,” Mason stated at the time. “After extensive consultations with experts in the field, e-bike and e-scooter lithium-ion battery safety is a large and immediate subject that we need to act on now. The advisement statement we have prepared for retailers takes the interest of e-bike continued growth within the industry and safety for all. If we do not address the core issue, we may see this propel to something beyond our control.”    With the recently proposed bans on e-bikes getting many people charged up, it is important to consider that the authorities proposing these changes are doing so with public safety in mind. When improper and unsafe charging of e-bikes takes place, tragedy can follow. People who use e-bikes should continue to learn about the intricacies involved in safe charging. Doing so will not only impact their own personal safety, but the safety of their neighbors as well.

Amazon Solar Shutdown Provides Opportunity for Praise and Reflection on Safe Solar Installations

According to recent reports from CNBC and other major news outlets, Amazon temporarily shut down all solar power generation at their North American facilities last year as they worked to investigate potential fire safety issues with these systems. While the details of what Amazon found in their investigations during the shutdown are unspecified and therefore can’t be expounded upon, knowing that Amazon recognized a compounding problem and made safety paramount by shutting down their solar generation at 47 North American sites should be commended. Although there was significant financial loss to Amazon by moving forward with the shutdown and launching the investigation, making the decision to do so aligned with the principles established by the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™—specifically, the company chose to make an Investment in Safety. The NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. There are eight key components in the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. These components are interdependent. When they work together, the Ecosystem protects everyone. If any component is missing or broken, the Ecosystem can collapse, often resulting in tragedy. Almost always we can trace the cause of fire and life safety tragedies back to the breakdown of one or more components. Aside from the aforementioned Investment in Safety, there are several other key areas of the Ecosystem that apply to safe solar installations. Codes, compliance, and skilled workers With a technology that is constantly changing like solar photovoltaic (PV) power, using the most current codes is critical for a safe installation. Within the Ecosystem, this would fall under the Development and Use of Current Codes component. As an example, NFPA 70,® National Electrical Code® (NEC®), covers the installation of PV systems in Article 690, including the array circuit(s), inverter(s), and controller(s) for such systems. Article 691 covers large-scale PV electric supply stations not under exclusive utility control, such as privately owned solar farms. Yet many areas of the country do not use the most current edition of the NEC, with some areas using editions dating back as far as 2008. That is a 15-year difference between the most current NEC and some of the oldest versions being used. As can be expected, there have been significant changes in product development and safe solar installation requirements over those years. For instance, rapid shutdown is a means of solar equipment reducing the potential for electric shock within 30 seconds of activation of shutdown, intended to raise the level of safety for firefighters that are responding to potential solar array fires. Rapid shutdown was introduced in the 2014 cycle of the NEC so anyone utilizing prior editions would not be providing this level of safety for first responders. This is a clear example of why it is so important to utilize the most current codes for solar installations in order to achieve maximum safety.   Fortunately, even for jurisdictions that are lagging behind in the use of the most recent codes, professionals can choose to take trainings on more recent editions. The NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC) (2020) Online Training Series, for example, provides trainees with key information and interactive exercises on the 2020 edition of the NEC. With the 2023 NEC having just taken effect September 1, be on the lookout for forthcoming training based on that version of the NEC.   Another area of the Ecosystem that is necessary for a safe solar installations is Code Compliance. The only way to truly ensure a safe installation is by verifying it through effective code enforcement. Those tasked with inspecting solar installations for safety must consider everything involved while reviewing the systems. NEC requirements as well as manufacturer installation requirements are critical items that must be met. It is also important to remember that code compliance does not end with the initial installation of the system. Any time a solar installation gets updated or modified, it is just as important to have that system reviewed again for continued compliance with the necessary codes as it was to have it inspected in the first place. The individuals that perform the solar installation matter as well. The Ecosystem requires a Skilled Workforce in order to ensure safe installations. Those that are considered skilled are aware of the most current codes and know how to apply them to the installation. They have been trained to properly handle, install, and maintain the equipment that is involved. From an enforcement standpoint, the NEC takes skill a step further by requiring that only qualified persons perform the installation of solar equipment, associated wiring, and interconnections. By definition within the NEC, a qualified person has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. One critical way a Skilled Workforce can be created is through training programs like the ones offered by NFPA. The Photovoltaic and Energy Storage Systems Online Training Series, for example, is a four-part online program that covers topics that can assist with design, installation, maintenance, and inspection requirements for PV and energy storage systems. The training educates users on relevant code requirements for PV systems and ESS not just within the NEC, but also within other leading codes including NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®, and others. When it comes to safe installations of solar power it is critical that we play offense, instead of defense. Choosing to be proactive by ensuring safe installations that align with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem up front will prevent the need for reactive decisions to correct any potential problems down the line. In the United States alone, solar power capacity has grown from approximately 0.34 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 97.2 gigawatts today. With no slowing down in sight, it is critical that those involved in performing solar installations and maintenance are doing so with safety as an important and necessary part of the process. Learn more about all of NFPA’s resources on PV and energy storage systems at nfpa.org/ess.

Now Issued, We Thank Those That Brought the 2023 NEC to the Top of the Mountain

It’s been a long climb to the top, but we made it – together! The NFPA Standards Council has voted to issue the 2023 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) with an effective date of September 1, 2022. With a pandemic overarching most of this revision cycle, we faced challenges never before seen in working through the NFPA Standards Development Process to create the 2023 NEC. A very special thanks goes out to the public for their valuable inputs and comments, the countless volunteer committee members for sharing their valuable time and knowledge, and NFPA staff for all of their hard work of governing the process and keeping everything on task through the challenges brought about by the pandemic. This truly has been an NEC cycle like none we have ever seen before. While there were new challenges along the way, it never delayed the development process which is rather inconceivable considering the way the world was being impacted by the pandemic. Not only did it not slow down, but it also increased. Every actionable item of the NFPA Standards Development Process increased in the 2023 NEC cycle versus the 2020 NEC cycle including: Public Inputs (PIs), First Revisions (FRs), First Correlating Revisions (FCRs), Correlating Notes (CNs), Public Comments (PCs), Second Revisions (SRs), Second Correlating Revisions (SCRs), and Certified Amending Motions (CAMs). After two years of not having our annual NFPA Conference & Expo in-person, 2022 allowed us to finally all get beck together in Boston for C&E in June where the Technical Meeting was held. During the meeting, the 55 CAMs for the 2023 NEC were presented and most were debated by membership on the meeting floor. The only CAMs that were not debated were those that were not pursued by the submitter, often due to the results of a previously debated CAM around the same topic failing to get the necessary votes from membership. In early August, the NFPA Standards Council heard fourteen appeals related to the 2023 NEC, which after the voting of the Council resulted in 18 amendments and four concurrently issuing Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs). Some of the topics of the appeals that were heard dealt with optical fiber cable, copper-clad aluminum wiring, surge protection devices, GFCI protection, and swimming pool bonding. After all was considered, the preliminary minutes for the NFPA Standards Council Meeting concluded that the Council set an issuance date for the 2023 NEC as August 12, 2022, and the aforementioned effective date as September 1, 2022.   After the thrill of climbing the mountain, and all that was overcome, every good climber sticks a flag in the ground to celebrate their accomplishments. The mountain that we all climbed to reach the pinnacle of the 2023 NEC should be commemorated as well. Our distinctive flag in the ground for the 2023 NEC comes by way of NFPA LiNK®, which is NFPA’s digital access to codes and standards, plus so much more. All previous NEC code cycles always had a delay between when it was issued and when it was available due to the time it took for printing, but the 2023 NEC will be different. The 2023 NEC will become available in NFPA LiNK® on September 1, 2022. That’s right, if you are a subscriber to NFPA LiNK®, the 2023 NEC will be available to you on the same day that it becomes effective. For individuals that still prefer the book version of the NEC, the softbound, spiral, and handbook versions are available for preorder now and will become available this fall. The best view always comes when you reach the peak of the mountain. From what I can see, our ability to make electrical installations around the world safer just improved with the addition of the 2023 NEC. A very special thank you goes out to all of you that helped us to climb the mountain! For more information on the features of NFPA LiNK®, including access to a 14-day risk-free trial for all new users, please visit www.nfpa.org/LiNK.

Proper Use of Ladders on Jobsites Can Help Workers to Mitigate Personal Risk

Jobsites are a hazardous place on their own accord. That is before we start adding people, and their associated decision making, into the equation, which has the potential to make the jobsite even more dangerous. Add in working on or around electricity and the risks can compound even more. With so many things that can be out of our control on jobsites, such as someone making a decision that puts another person in harm’s way, we would be foolish to not mitigate risk by controlling the things that we can control. One thing that we can control individually on the job is ladder usage. Ladders are typically handled by a single person, which makes him/her solely responsible for how safely they use one. Aside from maintaining personal safety, proper ladder use is also necessary to avoid any potential citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which may result in financial penalties. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that by far the two highest categories of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020 were “Installation, maintenance, and repair” and “Construction and extraction.” Combined, these two categories totaled more than 11,000 injuries, resulting in at least one day away from work, which was over 49 percent of the total number of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020. It is important to note that this data is based on the recorded injuries and does not incorporate any other ladder injuries that may have gone as undocumented. While it could be argued that construction and maintenance workers use ladders more than other occupations, making injury a higher probability, a counterpoint could also be made that individuals working in construction and maintenance should also have a better understanding of how to use ladders based on their experience and training. While the user is responsible for their own safety while using the ladder, employers have the responsibility of making sure that the employee is properly trained to do so. There are several key areas that should be considered when using a ladder on the jobsite, to help mitigate any associated safety risks. The most common ladders used on the jobsite are typically stepladders and extension ladders. Each ladder should be utilized in the capacity that it was designed for. As an example, it can be common for workers to lean a stepladder against a wall to perform their work however stepladders were not designed for this use, as they are required to have the metal spreaders built into the ladder in the fully extended, locked position prior to using the ladder. If a stepladder is leaned against a wall, essentially being used as a single ladder, it is not possible to have the metal arms extended as required. This is an example of where it is necessary to choose the proper ladder for the specific task and then use it correctly. Another common misuse of ladders on the job is standing on the top of a ladder that is not designed for the purpose. Ladder manufacturers put clear labels on ladders that specifically tell you not to stand above a certain point on the ladder, which should be strictly adhered to. Ladders are also rated for specific loads, that should not be exceeded, due to the potential for the ladder buckling because of overloading. When considering the load that will be imposed on the ladder, users should consider both their personal bodyweight but also the weight of any additional tools or materials that the will be carrying up the ladder. Another key consideration for selecting the proper ladder is the material that the ladder is made from. The sheer nature of an electrician working with electricity while using a ladder makes it clear that a conductive aluminum ladder is not a good choice for their line of work. But what about a painter that is working near a power line? A metal ladder is not a good choice in that application either. Choosing the proper ladder for the proper task and environment, and using it properly, is a key first step in ladder injury prevention. Ladders should always be visually checked before each use. Due to improper usage, ladders that were visually checked and okay for use this morning, may not be okay in the afternoon. For example, if someone were to stand on one of the supports of a ladder that does fully rated steps on the backside, the supports could become damaging making the ladder unsafe for use. When performing visual inspections on ladders, some key areas to check are: Structural damage Split or bent side rails Missing or damaged steps and spreaders Grease, dirt, or other contaminants that could cause a slip or fall While climbing or descending a ladder, it is also critical to maintain 3-points of contact at all times. This can be accomplished by maintaining two hands and one foot or by one hand and two feet. Ensuring that 3-points of contact are maintained at all times will limit any potential imbalance on the ladder that could result in a devastating fall injury. Falls from ladders are likely to have attributed to many of the 161 fatal ladder injuries that were reported in 2020. Even a fall from a relatively low height can prove to be deadly if an individual were to hit their head or fall on a sharp object below. Continuing to maintain 3-points of contact whenever climbing or descending a ladder will help workers to remain safe and avoid becoming a statistic. Personal safety is just that – personal. Deciding to use a ladder, or not to use a ladder, along with the how the ladder is utilized while working, is a personal decision. For those of us who work on construction jobsites every day, the activities by others on the job that we cannot control already puts our wellbeing and lives at risk. So, why wouldn’t we want to control the things we can to help mitigate any additional risk, such as utilizing ladders safely? It is a sure guarantee that the BLS will produce a ladder injury report next year and every year that follows, but we can all play a key role in whether those numbers are climbing up the ladder or down the ladder. I hope to see you all safely at ground level. For more information on how NFPA can help electrical professionals to stay safe on the jobsite, please visit our Electrical Safety Solutions page.
Air conditioner

Three Key Steps to Help Reduce Home Electrical Hazards as We Beat the Summer Heat

As more people continue to work from home, all-day computer use, coupled with an increased demand for air conditioning during this summer’s record high temperatures and humidity, can put a strain on home electrical systems. An article in this week’s New York Times, “Heat Wave: Why Home Offices Add to Con Ed’s Stress,” emphasizes this point and highlights the growing concern of the load on New York’s electrical system as the country heads into one of the hottest months of the year. Keep yourself and loved ones safe and reduce the risk of home electrical fires when using air conditioners at home and other equipment needing electricity: Plug air conditioner (A/C) power supply cords directly into wall outlets, without utilizing extension cords, and ensure the circuit is adequately sized for the load of the air conditioner. If the circuit is dedicated to the air conditioner, the ampacity of the air conditioner (found on the nameplate) can be 80 percent of the circuit rating. For example, if the circuit is rated at 20 amps, the air conditioner should draw no more than 16 amps. If there are other loads on the circuit with the air conditioner, the ampacity of the air conditioner (found on the nameplate) can be 50 percent of the circuit rating. So, if there are other loads on a 20-amp circuit, the air conditioner should draw no more than 10 amps. Ensuring your air conditioner is not overloading the circuit it is supplied by will help safeguard your electrical system and your residence. For more information about electrical safety during the summer months and beyond, visit the NFPA home electrical safety webpage.
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