Fairs, Festivals, & Similar Events Covered by NEC Article 525 and other Associated Articles

The county fair is an event that children and adults look forward to. Often children in rural areas prepare projects, for 4-H all year long, and the county fair is the place where they get to show off their projects.

Fair goers seldom realize that the fair may be a dangerous place they could go with their children. Unsafe electrical services, improperly wired electric outlets, and extension cords running across walkways are just a few of the electrical hazards that might be found at some fairs. Many fairs and festivals are in areas where there is no electrical inspection, so the problems are never brought to light.

Some of the larger festivals are set up on city streets and may cover several city blocks with hundreds of concession tents and stands. These may have multiple service points with portable distribution boxes or termination boxes set up to serve the assorted tents and concession stands.

A typical method of supplying power to the various booths is with a fused disconnect that supplies a termination box. These termination boxes or spider boxes have busbars for the hot conductors, neutrals, and ground. The boxes must comply with Section 525-15 for construction and placement. If done properly this is an acceptable method of supplying power to the various tents and booths. These termination boxes must be protected against overcurrent in accordance with Article 240. Some newer distribution equipment has circuit breakers combined with appropriate receptacles in weatherproof enclosures, and they are UL listed and labeled.

Termination boxes cannot have receptacles in them or run out of them without fuse or breaker protection of the receptacle and its wire. This is a violation of Section 525-15(c), which states, “receptacles shall have overcurrent protection installed within the box. The overcurrent protection shall not exceed the ampere rating of the receptacle, except as permitted in Article 430 for motor loads.” Without this overcurrent protection, the outlet would be protected only by the protective device rating the whole termination box, usually 100 to 400 amps. This also violates Sections 240-3 and 305-4. Frequently, exterior outlets are installed in dry location type four square boxes with raised covers. Outside outlets must be in weatherproof boxes with covers that are weatherproof with a cord plugged into it.

The cables and cords that supply distribution/termination boxes, and cords and cables running to the tents or concessions, are often run in street gutters to help protect them from foot traffic. This can cause problems when a sudden rainstorm submerges the wrong type of cable. A cord or cable for outdoor use must comply with NEC 525-13. The typical orange 16-gauge cord will not comply with Section 525-13(a) that states, “Where flexible cords or cables are used and are not subject to physical damage, they shall be permitted to be listed for hard usage. When used outdoors, flexible cords and cables shall also be listed for wet locations and shall be sunlight resistant.” The SO, SOO, or SJO cords listed in Table 400-4 are listed for damp locations only. Cords and cables suitable for wet locations also have a W designation on the cable. Protection of the cords is required by Section 523-13(f) that states, “Flexible cords or cables run on the ground, where accessible to the public, shall be covered with approved nonconductive mats. Cables and mats shall be arranged so as not to present a tripping hazard.” Foot traffic and vehicular traffic across unprotected cords can break down or fray a cord to the point where there may be bare conductors. Any moisture such as spilled drinks or rain showers open the door for an electrical incident. Protective mats provide a buffer that not only protect the cords, but also help eliminate the tripping hazard when multiple cables run across a walkway. There are also hard protective guards that can be placed where vehicles could damage cords. Section 523-13(d) states that, “Flexible cords or cables shall be continuous without splice or tap between boxes or fittings. Cord connectors shall not be laid on the ground unless listed for wet locations.” Most standard extension cords do not have cord connectors that are listed for wet locations.

Inside the Concession Stand or Tent

Section 525-16 states that overcurrent protection of equipment and conductors shall be provided in accordance with Article 240. Tents and concession stands that are fed by circuit to which cords or cables are connected must have overcurrent protection that protects the cord or cable as well as equipment in the tent or concession stand. There must be overcurrent protection in the tent or concession. Section 525-30 entitled “Type and Location,” states that “Each ride and concession shall be provided with a fused disconnect switch or circuit breaker located within sight and within 6 ft of the operator’s station.” Check the ampacity of the cord or cable based on Table 400-5(a) supplying the concession to assure it is large enough to supply the equipment load.

Section 525-13(a) states that “Electrical wiring for temporary lighting, where installed inside tents and concessions, shall be securely installed, and where subject to physical damage, shall be provided with mechanical protection. All temporary lamps for general illumination shall be protected from accidental breakage by a suitable fixture or lampholder with a guard.” Any lamps for temporary lighting in a tent must have some kind of guard to protect the bulb. This is also stated in Section 305-4(f) entitled “Lamp Protection.” The old style temporary string lights that had two individual wires between the light sockets can no longer be used.

Section 525-18 covers GFCI protection for personnel. Simply stated, unless the receptacle is for an appliance or covered by an assured grounding program, receptacles must be GFCI protected. Both this Section and Section 305-6 cover this requirement.

Section 525-21 covers bonding of equipment and items (1) and (2) cover the normal bonding of raceways and metal enclosures. Special attention is required to assure compliance with (3) which states, “Metal frames and metal parts of rides, concessions, trailers, trucks, or other equipment that contain or support electrical equipment.” Many of the concession trailers have metal skins on them. Failure to assure proper bonding of all metal parts can jeopardize the occupants of the concession as well as the customers.

Does your area have electrical inspections?

Unfortunately, many areas of the country have not adopted building codes and do not require electrical inspections. As a result, street festivals and county fairs in those areas are not likely to be inspected or are inspected by unqualified personnel. However, some have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily comply with the Code.

As an example, several years ago the Circleville Pumpkin Show Committee, not a governmental body, decided they could no longer afford the potential liability of unsafe electrical equipment and unsafe hookups to vendors. They started eliminating all items that did not meet the NEC. Gone are the 16-gauge cords feeding a string of lights and several outlets in the tent. Every tent or concession stand now has a fused or breaker disconnect with appropriate lighting and receptacles. The wooden termination boxes have been retired. All cords are now listed for “Wet” locations. The buss bar termination boxes are being replaced with listed breaker/receptacle boxes. This change has greatly reduced the hazards associated with holding a large festival in a historic downtown area. They now work with the inspectors to help them assure the Pumpkin Show is as safe as it can be.

Allyn Sheldon
Allyn "Al" Sheldon is an Ohio certified electrical inspector and chief building official for the City of Circleville and Pickaway County, Ohio. Circleville is host city to the Circleville Pumpkin Show that is billed as the largest free show on earth. Al is first vice chair of the Southwestern Division, Ohio Chapter of the IAEI, as well as a member of BOCA, OBOA and COCOA code organizations.