OSHA Final Rule Updates Electrical Standard

For the first time since 1981, OSHA is updating its general-industry electrical installation standard.

In a final rule published in the Feb. 14 Federal Register, the agency explains that its revisions to Subpart S of 29 CFR Part 1910 “draw heavily from the 2000 edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces (NFPA 70E) and the 2002 edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC).”

According to OSHA, changes to Subpart S focus on safety in the design and installation of electric equipment in the workplace. The updated standard includes a new, alternative method for classifying and installing equipment in Class I hazardous locations; new requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs); and new provisions on wiring for carnivals and similar installations.

The final rule also replaces the reference to the 1971 NEC in the mandatory appendix to the general-industry powered platform standard – found in Subpart F of 29 CFR 1910 – with a reference to OSHA’s electrical installation standard.

The final rule becomes effective Aug. 13.

Rule Based on “Most Current Practice and Technology”

In the Feb. 14 Federal Register, OSHA explains that its existing electrical installation standard is based on the 1979 edition of Part I of NFPA 70E – titled Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces – which has been revised several times since OSHA in 1981 last updated the agency’s electrical installation requirements.

According to the Federal Register notice, OSHA officials and other stakeholders wanted Subpart S “to reflect the most current practice and technology in the industry.”

“Consensus standards like the NEC and NFPA 70E provide nationally recognized safe electrical installation requirements,” the agency says. “Additionally, the consensus process used in developing the 2000 edition of NFPA 70E – Part I of which is based on the NEC – ensures that requirements contained in that standard are current and at the forefront of electrical safety technology.”

OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. added: “The revised standard strengthens employee protections and adds consistency between OSHA’s requirements and many state and local building codes” that have adopted NFPA and NEC provisions.

Some Stakeholders Urged OSHA to Use NFPA 70E-2004

OSHA asserts that during the public comment period, “the vast majority” of stakeholders who weighed in – including the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association – expressed support for OSHA’s efforts to update Subpart S.

“It is appropriate to move forward with this revision, given the seriousness of electrical hazards and the fact that nearly 300 workers are killed each year from contact with electrical current or as the result of injuries caused by fires and explosions related to electrical accidents,” ASSE wrote.

However, some stakeholders criticized OSHA for basing its revised standard on the 2000 edition of NFPA 70E, when the NFPA Standards Council in 2004 issued an updated version. Those stakeholders worried that “by using the 2000 edition of NFPA 70E rather than the more recent 2004 edition, OSHA was not reflecting the most current practices and technology.”

“We believe that if the intent is to reflect the most current practice and technology, using a 4-year-old standard – which will be even more dated by the time OSHA finalizes this standard – is inappropriate,” wrote David Soffrin of the American Petroleum Institute. “We therefore recommend that OSHA revise the proposal using NFPA 70E-2004 – Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace – or the 2002 NEC, which would require numerous modifications.”

OSHA: Revised Rule “Will Not Be Obsolete”

OSHA, in the Federal Register, defends its decision to base its revision to Subpart S on NFPA 70E-2000. The agency notes that NFPA 70E-2004 was published on April 9, 2004 – which was 4 days after OSHA first published its notice of proposed rulemaking for the Subpart S revision – and “was not placed in the rulemaking record.”

“[T]herefore the agency does not believe that the public would have had adequate notice of the many changes in the latest NFPA standard, to the extent that the agency would have incorporated these changes in the final rule,” OSHA says. “Basing Subpart S on the latest edition of NFPA 70E would thus necessitate re-proposing the rule. Given the time involved in re-proposing and finalizing an OSHA standard, it is likely that NFPA 70E will be revised yet again within that timeframe.

“In addition, because NFPA 70E and OSHA’s electrical installation standard were developed specifically to minimize the need for revision with every new version of the NEC, a final rule based on the 2000 edition of NFPA 70E will not be obsolete.”

The agency adds that “several provisions in the final rule are based on corresponding requirements in the 2002 NEC, on which NFPA 70E-2004 is based.”

To read OSHA’s final rule in the Feb. 14 Federal Register, click here.

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