OPINION: Missouri’s dangerous electrical standards are killing children

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MATT MILITZER is a 12-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1 and a St. Louis County Master Electrician.

By MATT MILITZER

IBEW Local 1

In Missouri today, there is less oversight on individuals performing electric work than there is to simply cast a ballot to vote. In multiple cities and municipalities across the state, a small fee for a permit is all that is required, without providing any credentials. When a license is not needed, the term is simply, “no restrictions.” It is no wonder that Missouri has a horrible reputation concerning safety and quality due to poor installations.

Angieslist.com created a disturbing map of the U.S. titled, “Home Fire Child Fatalities by State.” Missouri was ranked second worst in the nation, South Dakota being the worst. It states, “19.4% of all fatalities in fires over a three-year period in Missouri were children 14 years and under.” It goes on to say, “The top cause for fires that resulted in the death for children was electrical malfunction” (Home Fire Fatalities).

FAILING IN ELECTRICAL SAFETY

Every year Mike Holt, an internationally recognized expert of the National Electric Code, ranks states according to electrical safety. Missouri has received an F five years running.

The ranking is based on the adoption of the National Electric Code, which Missouri is only one of three states not to recognize.

The ranking also considers licensing and amount of continuing education (CEU or PDH) required for electricians and inspectors. It is an unfortunate fact that our inspectors aren’t held to a higher standard than our electricians performing the work, which isn’t much of a standard at all.

Even Hollywood has taken notice of our poor standards. Netflix hit crime drama television series, “Ozark”, is based on a family who flees Chicago to the Lake of the Ozarks. The plot twist they consistently use to kill off characters is electrocution. It’s sad because it’s believable.

LICENSING

We can begin to solve these problems with licensing.

Licensing is intended to ensure anyone who either installs or inspects electrical equipment has a working knowledge of code and theory.

The National Electric Code, or NFPA 70, states, “The purpose of this code is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity” (90.1A).

The National Electric Code (NEC) is considered a legal document and is updated every three years. Thousands of people take part in the extensive process to create a better code, and it’s up to the 20 code making panels to delegate what makes the cut. Often, as little as one word is changed in an existing article for better comprehension.

After a new edition of the NEC is published, jurisdictions throughout the nation require electricians to take part in a code update course to retain an active license. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Missouri.

An electrician can practice their trade for decades without ever opening a code book. Their method of finding out if codes have changed is by failing an inspection. They are forced to fix their install, whether small or large, and simply make a mental note to change technique before the next project begins. Inspectors are responsible for identifying installations that fall short of being code compliant, even though they themselves are not licensed.

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION,
BUT MORE IS NEEDED

Last year my State Representative, Kirk Mathews (R-Pacific), introduced a bill to create a Missouri statewide electrical license. It passed the House and Senate and became law, which is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the statewide license is only for contractors, not individuals, and is only required where licensing already exists. The legislation fell short due to the fact it created reciprocity among political subdivisions that already license.

We should now take the next step towards safety. Missouri should require all electricians and inspectors to be licensed and take continuing education similar to the rest of the nation. We should adopt the National Electric Code.

We, as citizens, should demand legislation to protect us from preventable fires and electrocutions, especially of children.

Please call your representatives or senators and request that they take our safety more seriously. It’s an election year, so they may just listen.

(Matt Militzer is a 12-year member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1 and a St. Louis County Master Electrician.)

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