How the IEC Relates to North America – Particularly IEC 60364

The second part in these series of articles ended by asking the question, “Why should an electrical inspector participate in the IEC standards making process?” The answer is simple: to ensure that electrical safety is not compromised by the ongoing efforts to harmonize codes and standards worldwide. There are those individuals in the U.S. and around the globe that believe the U.S. should just adopt the IEC 60364 standard for Electrical Installations of Buildings. This alone is probably the number one reason why inspectors need to get involved. While IEC 60364 is great for the applications for which it was created, it would be catastrophic to apply it to the North American electrical safety system without much study and application evaluation.

There is also a lot of activity to get IEC product standards adopted in the U.S. To influence these standards, all effected U.S. interests must increase their participation in the system. IEC activities are not only to affect what is being done in other countries. The reality is that they can have a major impact on the North American electrical safety system now and in the future.

To better understand how this impacts our system, we have to look at the various components which comprise the North American electrical safety system. Our system is linked together by three interdependent parts: codes, standards and inspection. If one of these parts is compromised, it impacts every component of the system; therefore, challenging the overall safety of the installation.

The final part of this series will briefly discuss some of the ongoing international activities and their impact on the different parts of the North American electrical safety system.

Code – National Electrical Code (NEC) versus Electrical Installations in Buildings (IEC 60364)

Electrical installation codes are vital in establishing effective electrical safety systems. They should relate to the product standards being used and the inspection and enforcement of the overall system. With the increasing push to achieve international standards for electrical installations and products, it is necessary to understand how different regions of the world approach electrical installation rules.

In 1999, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), published a report titled “Electrical Installation Requirements: A Global Perspective.” This report provided a detailed analysis of the concepts in the U.S. National Electrical Code and IEC 60364, Standard for Electrical Installations of Buildings. Although the analysis showed that both documents are similar in that the basic principles of safety are covered, they were developed for different purposes. The NEC was developed to establish uniform levels of safety. It provides specific rules on how to design, install and enforce electrical systems installation rules. IEC 60364 was developed as an effort to harmonize electrical installation rules among the European countries to further facilitate trade. Because of their differences in wiring practices, they needed to define basic principles and performance requirements based on their wiring and distribution systems. The fundamental principles of safety are covered in Section 131 of IEC 60364-1 and address protection against hazards that may occur while using electricity. Unlike the NEC, IEC 60364 is not intended to be used by designers, installers or enforcement/inspection bodies. It is to be used only as a guide to develop national wiring rules. A country which adopts IEC 60364 in whole or part, still needs to develop additional requirements for the designers, installers and enforcers.

The analysis showed that the NEC is an effective installation code that is practical, enforceable and adoptable. It is consistent with the fundamental principles of Chapter 13 of IEC 60364-1, Section 131 – Protection for Safety. Installations that are in conformance with the NEC are also in compliance with the fundamental principles covered in IEC 60364.

Can the two documents be harmonized? Some feel that including the NEC in the IEC document would solve the problem of harmonization. Others believe that since the electrical systems are so different, harmonization is not possible. To link the two documents together and demonstrate a complimentary relationship, a new Section 90-1(d) has been proposed and accepted to the 2002 NEC, stating, “(d) Relation to International Standards. The requirements in this code address the fundamental principles of protection for safety contained in International Standard – Electrical Installations of Buildings, IEC 60364 Section 131.”


Product standards in North America set minimum safety requirements for performance, construction, marking and certification. The requirements in product standards are highly influenced by the requirements of the NEC, therefore providing a definitive linkage between the two parts of the North American Electrical Safety System. When a product is labeled as being certified or listed to the appropriate product standard, the inspection authority knows that the product is in compliance with the safety and installation requirements of the Code.

One challenge facing North America, including the inspection community, is the push to adopt or adapt IEC product standards. Remember, the IEC standards were not developed in consideration of the North American installation code. Rather they are linked to the IEC 60364 series of documents. There is no way an inspector can determine whether the product, which meets only the IEC requirements, will be compatible for use in a system installed in accordance with the NEC.


Inspection is probably the most vital (and often the most misunderstood) part of the North American electrical safety system. In addition to enforcing the NEC, the inspector must also determine whether electrical products meet the appropriate product standards for North America. The inspector relies on some method of conformity assessment to ensure that the products meet these applicable standards. Typically, this method is third party certification (listing) by a certification agency. Other areas of the globe may rely on a similar third party system or they may use different methods. For instance, in the European countries, CE marking is used to indicate conformity to the “common level of safety” as determined in the European Union Directives. The manufacturer of the product self-declares compliance with the appropriate requirements for the involved product. This method of conformity, for electrical equipment, is not generally accepted by North American users, manufacturers and inspectors. Most still prefer third party certification.

Going back to our first two components of the North American electrical safety system, codes and standards, CE marking does not mean that the product is compatible with the electrical installation code (NEC) or the relevant product standard. To ensure public safety, it is imperative that the North American electrical safety system not be compromised by products not compliant with the appropriate North American codes and standards.

What needs to be done?

It is imperative that the U.S. continue to promote the strengths in their approach to standardization. The U.S. has a strong standards-making system, as it is market-driven, responsive to the unique requirements of the many different industry sectors. It is also an open and voluntary system.

The first step in promoting the system is to dispel the misinterpretation of the term “international standards” in the World Trade Organization (WTO) treaty on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In many cases, it is interpreted that this applies only to IEC, ISO and ITU standards. This is obviously very disadvantageous to U.S. industries as it restricts their availability in global markets.

Another important step is the support and implementation of the National Standards Strategy for the U.S., which was unanimously approved by the ANSI Board of Directors on August 31, 2000 and presented to the House Science Committee – Subcommittee on Technology on September 13, 2000. The strategy, which is a consensus document, outlines the principles and a plan of action which will strengthen the United States’ ability to compete internationally and still protect the safety, environmental and health interests of its citizens.

Part of the strategy is to “broaden the U.S. standards ‘umbrella’ to include all those organizations that are contributing to the standards system.” Going back to the three parts that comprise the North American electrical safety system, inspection is the final component in ensuring safe products and safe installations in the U.S. Therefore, it is imperative that the inspection community broaden their participation in the USNC and IEC to make sure that no component of the North American electrical safety system is compromised. A good start was made with the recent appointment of James E. Carpenter, chief electrical engineer and state electrical inspector, North Carolina Department of Insurance, representing IAEI, to the newly reorganized Technical Management Committee of the USNC. There is still a way to go however. As stated by Phil Cox, IAEI executive director and editor-in-chief for the IAEI News, in his Challenge for 1998, “The IAEI must become more involved in global affairs affecting electrical inspectors and the electrical industry if it is to operate effectively in the future.”