NFPA 70E: What Does it Mean to You?

March 13, 2006
Do you want your employees to be safe from injuries caused by electrical incidents? Here's how OSHA and NFPA 70E the National Electrical Code can help you achieve that goal.

A lot of numbers get bounced around about injuries and fatalities due to electrical incidents. The Department of Labor estimates that there are, on average, 9,600 serious electrical shock and burn injuries each year. They also estimate approximately one fatality per day due to electrocution. That's quite a number when you think about it.

Electrical incidents do not always result in death. Sometimes, they result in severe burns, scarring, tissue death, lost limbs, blindness, hearing loss and several other really bad things that you don't want to have happen to you.

Where are these injuries occurring? Although there is a great interest in the industry in arc flash, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health , the biggest hazard is still electrical shock, except for workers in the construction and utility industries. H. Landis Floyd II, PE, in a paper presented to the 13th annual IEEE-IAS Workshop, estimated the direct and indirect costs of a major electrical injury event to be $23 million.

Keep in mind that almost all of the information cited in this article is related to a worker being exposed to an energized part. Do you want your facility to be electrical-incident free? The solution is really quite simple just put your equipment in an electrically safe condition before working on or near it. But sometimes that is easier said than done ...

What Does OSHA Expect from Me?

OSHA expects quite a bit, actually. Safety is not to be a passive, reactive policy that is brought out for show-and-tell or after-the-fact. Reviewing some of the major requirements:

  • Employers must know what their employees do. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(iii) states: "The employer shall determine, through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section;" and, "Note: OSHA would consider that tasks that are performed less often than once per year to necessitate retraining before the performance of the work practices involved."
  • Employees must be trained in their job tasks. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.332 states: "The training requirements contained in this section apply to employees who face a risk of electric shock that is not reduced to a safe level by the electrical installation requirements of 1910.303 through 1910.308."
  • Additionally, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.301 through .308 basically paraphrases the National Electrical Code (NEC). OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2) states: "Employees shall be trained in and familiar with the safety-related work practices, safety procedures and other safety requirements in this section that pertain to their respective job assignments. Employees shall also be trained in and familiar with any other safety procedures (such as pole top and manhole rescue) that are not specifically addressed by this section, but that are related to their work and are necessary for their safety."

So, where is the focus? Ken Mastrullo of the National Fire Protection Association has trained OSHA compliance officers in NFPA 70E (also known as Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace). In his presentation at the IEEE-IAS workshop, Mastrullo made a national comparison of the OSHA 1910 Subpart S citations versus accidents and fatalities between Oct. 1, 2003, and Sept. 30, 2004. Interestingly enough, the results were as follows: Installations accounted for 80 percent of the citations, while safe work practice issues were cited 20 percent of the time. However, installations accounted for 9 percent of the accidents, while safe work practice issues accounted for 91 percent of all electrical-related accidents. Looking at Mastrullo's data, while the majority of the OSHA citations were for installation issues, the majority of the injuries were occurring because of safe work practice issues.

So where should you focus your attention? It seems logical that safe work practices should be the focus, and you should ensure that you have qualified personnel who understand the hazards involved with the specific tasks they are required to do for their job.

So what does that have to do with you? Think about it: OSHA regulations are federal law. They tell you what you have to do, but fall short of telling you how to do it. Not necessarily OSHA's fault; that's the way regulations have to be written in order to be enforceable. So if OSHA tells you what to do, but not necessarily how to do it, what do you do? Go to the electrical safety "how-to" book, NFPA 70E.

The History of 70E

NFPA 70E standard was the first nationally recognized standard for electrical safety in the United States, and was the reference document used for the Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices (ESRWP) regulation (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.331 through .335).

In 1976, a committee was formed with the specific purpose to "assist OSHA in preparing electrical safety standards that would serve OSHA's needs." One reason this was necessitated was that OSHA was confronted with several areas that conflicted with the NEC, including such things as:

  • Updating the NEC could create conflict with existing OSHA regulations.
  • The NEC is primarily for those who design, install and inspect installations. OSHA addresses employers and employees.
  • Some detailed provisions of the NEC are not directly related to employee safety.
  • Requirements for electrical safety-related work practices are not found in the NEC.

The current edition of the 70E standard is the seventh edition of the standard, NFPA 70E 2004 Edition. Historically, the time line of the various editions is as follows:

1976 OSHA asks the NFPA to develop a consensus electrical safety standard
1979 First NFPA 70E edition of standard
1981 Second edition
1983 Third edition
1988 Fourth edition
1995 Fifth edition
2000 Sixth edition (introduction of the hazard/risk tables)
2004 Seventh edition (safe work practice emphasis)
October 2008 Next (eighth) 70E revision due (NFPA 70E 2009 Edition)

The 2004 edition of NFPA 70E has an introduction, four chapters and 13 annexes. The first chapter, "Safety-Related Work Practices," is the part most of us need to be familiar with and understand. This covers critical safety-related items such as training requirements for qualified and unqualified persons. So, how does OSHA define a qualified employee? In 29 CFR 1910.399, it states: "One familiar with the construction and operation of the equipment and the hazards involved."

NFPA 70E has a definition that states: "Qualified Person One whom has the skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training on the hazards involved."

So, are your employees qualified? OSHA says they have to be, 70E says they have to be and they have to receive training on the hazards involved. If your employees are not trained and do not understand all of the hazards involved with an assigned task, then you are entering into areas of non-compliance that put both the employee and the company at risk.

If you do not comply with 70E, can OSHA cite you for it? The short answer: Yes. If your employees are involved in a serious electrical incident, OSHA likely will present you with several citations. Think about it: If you were following safe work practices and properly protecting your employees through training, hazard awareness, personal protective equipment or by de-energizing equipment, the likelihood of an electrical incident occurring is very small. So, when an incident occurs the two likely areas of non-compliance are: 29 CFR 1910.335(a)(1)(i), which requires the use of protective equipment when working where a potential electrical hazard exists; and 29CFR 1910.132(d)(1), which requires the employer to assess the workplace for hazards and the need for personal protective equipment.

Since both of these regulations are written without much guidance as to how to actually comply with the hazard assessment or how to properly outfit your people with the proper PPE, the 70E standard steps in with guidance and help on how to maintain compliance with these very important OSHA regulations.

The Tables

One of the best features of 70E are the tables, and specifically, Table 130.7. This will assist you in choosing what PPE would be required for standard tasks that electrical workers perform. Each general type of equipment is grouped and common tasks are listed. For each task is a hazard/risk category (HRC) from 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest (and most hazardous). Protective clothing characteristics are defined in 70E.

For example, choosing from the table, insertion or removal (racking) of 600-volt class switchgear with power circuit breakers from cubicles, doors closed, shows an HRC of 2. With the doors open it would be an HRC 3. It is very critical that the notes section at the bottom of each table be reviewed and understood. The tables cannot be used outside of the stated limitations; otherwise injury or death could result.

One last thought on this topic: Electrical equipment maintenance. All the ratings, calculations and applications of the tables are performed with the expectation that the protective devices will function properly in the timeframes as designed and are properly coordinated and set to your protective device coordination study.

Experience has shown that this often is not the case. In nearly every facility, there are breakers and switches that are too slow or non-functional, primarily due to lack of maintenance. This could increase the time of exposure to an arc from 4 to 6 cycles (0.067 to 0.1 seconds) to 1 to 3 seconds or greater. Under these circumstances, because of the extended time and exposure to incident energies, there is no PPE that could protect a worker. Proper maintenance of equipment is as critical to safety and proper operation of the equipment as the selection of PPE is to the protection of the worker.

What Can You Do?

To protect your workers from electrical shock and, possibly, electrocution, follow this to-do list:

1. Develop a zero-tolerance policy toward energized work. Do you work on energized electrical equipment? Get serious about no "hot work." Troubleshooting, infrared scans and the like are not considered to be energized "work," nor is operating electrical equipment in a manner for which it was designed. However, this does not eliminate the need for conducting an electrical hazard analysis. Some tasks, such as racking circuit breakers, even though they don't seem to have a hazard associated with them, actually do. Racking circuit breakers in and out of their cubicles involves making and breaking electrical connections (their stabs), which has the danger of arc flash. Therefore, some level of arc flash PPE is required when racking breakers.

2. Get out in the field or plant and see what your workers are doing. Develop checklists or other methods for tracking who is qualified to perform what tasks. Some companies have gone so far as to conduct job task analysis. While they can be somewhat expensive and time-consuming, they help provide a blueprint of your employees' activities.

3. Train your employees. To be qualified to perform any task, they must know the construction, operation and hazards associated with certain types of equipment. Workers may be qualified to do certain tasks, but unqualified to do others. It is up to supervisors to know what employees safely can do.

4. Develop safe work practices and procedures. Energized electrical work permits, clearance procedures, switching orders, etc., are not called for in the regulations, but help document that the correct steps were taken. This can be especially important if there is an accident.

5. Perform periodic safety audits. If your workers know they will be subject to random safety audits, they will try to keep up with safe work practices and procedures.

6. Implement job briefings. If the job scope changes significantly, introducing new or different hazards than what were first anticipated, conduct another job briefing.

7. Be very careful how you implement any safety awards program. OSHA has issued numerous citations when they believe the awards program discourages accident reporting. Even if the program is designed in good faith, make certain it cannot be misconstrued.

8. Get up-to-speed on the regulations and the NFPA Standard 70E. Let's throw in the IEEE 1584-2002, Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations, as well. What you don't know will kill you, and those who work under your supervision.

9. Document, document, document. Everything. If you don't have it in writing, you never did it.

10. Show good-faith effort. This is one thing OSHA really keys in on. If they think you are making good-faith effort, it will save you a lot of pain. If OSHA doesn't think you're serious or, worse yet, thinks you're trying to put one over on them, watch out!

Latest and Best

The real reason we should apply the OSHA regulations and NFPA 70E is because they contain the latest, and best, research and methods for working on electrical systems rated 50 volts or higher.

No one wants to see another person injured or killed. However, if we make decisions based on a lack of knowledge, it can have a very negative consequence on our employees' lives and on our future.

Jim White is the training director for Shermco Industries Inc. in Irving, Texas, which provides testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium and heavy industrial base nationwide. Jim is a member of the NFPA 70E Committee and NFPA 70B Committee and is the secretary for the 2006 IEEE Electrical Safety Workshop.

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