Ohio Employers, Electricians, OSHA Agree to Use NFPA Safety Standard

Unionized electricians, contractors and federal regulators in Columbus, Ohio, have forged a landmark agreement to protect electrical workers on the job by using a safety standard from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The agreement puts into practice the safety measures specified in NFPA 70E, Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces. These new rules, which are much more specific than the existing federal regulations, will now apply to the 2,500 unionized electrical workers in the Columbus area. The pact, which toughens safety rules and enhances training, could serve as a model for the nation.

"This agreement's potential impact reaches far beyond Columbus, Ohio," said Kenneth G. Mastrullo, NFPA's senior electrical specialist. "It shows what can be accomplished when people with common safety interests join together to prevent injury and save lives. It could become a prototype for how employers, workers and government agencies can work in harmony for the public good."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 300 workers per year die from electrical shock on the job. Every year, about 4,000 workers lose time from work because of electrical injuries.

That's why the Columbus office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Central Ohio chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and Locals 683 and 1105 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) teamed up to develop this pioneering program. The National Joint Apprentice and Training Committee (NJATC), the training arm of IBEW and NECA, provided technical expertise and will be responsible for development and coordination of training for this effort.

At the core of the effort is NFPA 70E, a consensus standard first developed in 1976 at the request of OSHA and updated every three to five years since. While OSHA requires employers to keep their workers safe, its regulations don't always specify exactly how to comply. In contrast, NFPA 70E identifies the hazards and details the measures needed to prevent electrical injuries, such as wearing protective clothing, face shields or gloves. NFPA 70E is used by more than 200 major companies nationwide as the foundation of their electrical safety program.

Implementing such a comprehensive safety standard requires a significant investment of time and resources. In Columbus, it took a year of work-and 16 drafts to devise an agreement that delineated the role of each of the three groups.

The contractors will purchase the equipment and administer the program. OSHA will monitor and analyze its effectiveness. The goal is that electrical workers will experience fewer injuries, and their employers will have lower workers' compensation costs and the Columbus OSHA office will report a lower recordable-accident rate.

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