I’ve heard it all before. “What were they thinking when they wrote this standard? If I were them, this is how I would have done it.” When it comes to arc flash and electrical safety standards, complaints, armchair quarterbacking and second-guessing follow as soon as the latest edition comes out. As good as any standard may be, sometimes the intent of a specific article or sentence—or even the entire standard—may not be clear when looking at it from the outside.

I have a proposition: Get involved. Gain a different perspective, and see standards from the inside.

How do you do that? Begin with old-fashioned networking. Many people who write and influence the standards meet at several major conferences each year. Getting to know some of these people may provide valuable insight into why standards include certain requirements. The story of a requirement’s creation can be interesting. Sometimes, language has to be written a certain way to gain consensus. Since the standards-making process requires consensus, many participants’ concerns and opinions must be addressed.

Excellent events occur all year long; any of the following may be a great place to start seeing the view from the inside.

IEEE Electrical Safety Workshop

The primary mission of the Electrical Safety Workshop (ESW) is to focus on “path finding and creating the future in electrical safety by changing how we think about what is possible, or in other words, changing the electrical safety culture.” Typically held between late January and early March, this annual event brings together hundreds of people with a passion for electrical safety. There are many technical papers and tutorials on various aspects of electrical safety.

May: NECA Safety 
Professionals Conference

May is National Electrical Safety Month, and, each year, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) holds the NECA Safety Professionals Conference (NSPC). This event is specifically for safety professionals in the electrical contracting industry, and it features cutting-edge educational tracks and networking opportunities. Every year, notable industry leaders present the hottest topics in electrical safety.

June: NFPA Conference & Expo

The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Conference & Expo is regarded as a comprehensive event for the industry. The NFPA Technical Meeting, also known as “Tech Session,” is held at this time and is an important element in the standards-development process. The Tech Session ensures that consensus is achieved on proposed changes to NFPA standards prior to standards council review. During this meeting, supporters and opponents of certified motions voice their opinions, and NFPA members are given an opportunity to vote on proposed changes that were approved by the technical committee following a rigorous consensus procedure.

PCIC Conference

Usually held in September or October, the IEEE Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee (PCIC) conference is designed for the exchange of technical ideas of interest to petrochemical industry. Most of the issues facing the petrochemical industry also apply to other industries and commercial installations.

The PCIC is not regarded as a trade show but rather a gathering of professionals with a common focus on electrical installations, safety and reliability. It is packed with technical papers and tutorials authored by the most respected minds in the industry. Many PCIC members participate in developing industry standards. Similar to the ESW, working groups meet prior to the start of the conference to work on standards. These meetings are open to all conference registrants, making this a great opportunity to meet those at the heart of the standard.

Anytime: Mingle and network

Attending the technical and training sessions at these industry events can be a great learning experience. However, you can gather some of the best information from discussions at breaks and evening socials.

Everyone at these events wears a name tag. Introduce yourself, and get to know other people. You may not only make new acquaintances, but you may actually learn what the standards-
makers were thinking when they developed a particular article or standard.

Who knows? Once you get a peek on the inside, you might decide to get involved in the standards-making process. Attending a conference or two and meeting new people is a good first step.