Construction Depot Newsletter

Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

March 12, 2012

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Electrical Safety and the NFPA 70E

By Barry Moreland

NFPA standard number 70, the National Electrical Code, is primarily a document used to protect people and property from hazards that arise from the use of electricity. It contains very little information, however, about protecting those who work directly on or near energized electrical equipment or circuits as required by OSHA regulations.

In 1976, a committee was formed to assist OSHA in preparing electrical safety standards that would serve OSHA's needs to evaluate electrical safety in the workplace. In 1979, this committee established the first version of The Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces. Today, the standard is known as NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, and has been revised nine times.

This constantly evolving industry consensus standard is a great resource to meet the safety needs of employers and employees. In the 2012 edition, new research, new technology, and technical input from users of the standard provide the foundation for new and revised requirements that address electrical hazards employees face in today's workplaces.

The standard does not take into account whether employee exposure to electrical hazards takes place at general industry or construction sites. While technically complex, the standard mirrors OSHA's primary directive to work de-energized unless employers can justify that such work creates a greater hazard or is infeasible, as in certain troubleshooting tasks.

If energized work is justified, the standard provides direction on performing arc flash and shock hazard assessments, establishing safe work boundaries, and selection of appropriate PPE. It mandates communication between the host and sub-contractor employers to share information about electrical hazards. This includes field labeling of electrical equipment, quantifying shock and arc flash hazards, and the completion of an energized electrical work permit.

Employers who authorize energized electrical activities must thoroughly plan the work, have only qualified persons perform tasks following established procedures, and use rated insulating tools, equipment, and PPE. They should understand the difference between a scheduled or "unscheduled" shutdown and manage risk accordingly.

Electrical contact injuries happen at an alarming rate. Data from National Fire Protection Association, the National Safety Council, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that 10 arc-flash incidents occur every day in the U.S. and that over 3,600 disabling electrical contact injuries occur annually. Following NFPA 70E requirements is an option that employers can implement in their overall safety program to prevent such accidents from happening.

Barry Moreland is Safety Director at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland, Ore, and a member of the Construction Advisory Committee.

 

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