What is the Canadian Electrical Code – Part 1

A title page note says: “The Canadian Electrical Code, Part I is a voluntary code for adoption and enforcement by regulatory authorities.” Regulatory authorities—you know who they are—the electrical inspection authorities in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. On its own, the code has no basis in law. It only becomes the law when adopted and legislated with or without amendments by the “regulatory authorities” in each province or territory. Some jurisdictions need to make extensive amendments, while others have very few.

And there is no requirement that all jurisdictions pass the CEC, Part I into law at the same time. As sometimes happens, one province might very promptly adopt a new version of the code, while its neighbours may hang in with an earlier version for many more months. So don’t throw away that old code book too quickly, since you might still need it for a time.

Even though the CEC, Part I is intended for application only within Canada, it also “meets the fundamental safety principles of International Standard IEC 60364, Electrical Installation of Buildings.” Compliance with an international standard reminds us that we now live in a world where standards are rapidly becoming global ones so as to meet the growing demands for barrier-free international trade. Are we moving toward a universal electrical code and standards and is this always a good thing?

The stated object of the CEC, Part I is to provide safety standards for installing and maintaining electrical equipment so as to minimize electrical shock and fire hazards. We are also reminded that electrical installations should have sufficient capacity, not only to meet today’s demands, but to allow for future growth. This is good basic design, but is sometimes overlooked to save a few bucks.

We are further reminded that the code “is not intended as a design specification nor an instruction for untrained persons.” Here’s something extremely important that is sometimes overlooked. Regrettably, we sometimes become too obsessed with meeting the minimum requirement that will pass an electrical inspection. That’s not good planning nor what is intended. The code is proposed only as a minimum safety standard. First-class design always demands more, and literal interpretation of the code is never intended as a reasonable substitute for suitable qualifications, training and experience.

What is covered and which installations are exempt from its requirements? The scope of the CEC, Part I covers all electrical equipment and work except for some types of installations that are expected to meet other standards. Please note that different authorities have modified the exemptions listed in the CEC, Part I to suit their individual local needs.

  • The first exemption covers electric, communications and community antenna distribution systems utilities when carrying out their utility responsibilities. For example, the generation, transmission and distribution facilities of an electrical utility are not required to comply with the code. Neither must the operating facilities of telephone and cable television companies. Otherwise, all of their non-utility facilities in head office buildings, etc., do need to comply.
  • The motive power and equipment for electric railways, streetcars and subway systems are exempt from the CEC, Part I, but all other facilities in stations, yards and other buildings are required to comply with the code.
  • Railway signaling and communications systems in railway cars, buildings and along the tracks are not required to comply with the CEC, Part I.
  • Aircraft electrical systems are also exempt, but all airport facilities including electrical systems in terminal buildings, runway lighting, etc., are required to be in compliance.
  • Electrical systems in ships regulated by Transport Canada are not governed by the code. But when a ship is permanently tied up and reworked as a fancy restaurant, the electrical code does apply.
  • In general, mines and quarries are not exempt from the CEC, Part I, but are also covered under a different standard, CSA Standard CAN/CSA – M421. However, in the different regions of Canada, electrical safety in mines and quarries is managed in several ways, often as a shared responsibility between the electrical and mining inspectors.

In summary, a better understanding of the viewpoint and intent behind the code will always lead to a better understanding of its rules. As with past articles, you should always consult the electrical inspection authority in each province or territory as applicable for a more precise interpretation of any of the above.

Leslie Stoch
Leslie Stoch, P. Eng, is principal of L. Stoch & Associates, providing electrical engineering and ISO 9000 quality systems consulting. Prior to that, he spent over 20 years with Ontario Hydro as an electrical inspection manager and engineer. Les holds a B. S. in electrical engineering from Concordia University in Montreal.