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NFPA’s 70E Standard for Electrical Safety Is Changing with the Times, and You Should Too

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were 2,000 fatal and more than 24,000 non-fatal work-related electrical injuries between 2005 and 2015, including those sustained from an arc flash. That’s about one fatality a day out of 11 total work related deaths per day, according to The National Safety Council. Arcing caused by an electrical fault is not to be taken lightly — it can produce temperatures of more than 10,000 F (5,500 C), which is hotter than the surface of the sun. It can cause an explosion with enough force to fling a worker’s body across the room.

2000 fatal work related electrical injuries in past decade

As if injury and death are not enough, arc flashes can also result in business disruptions, expensive equipment damage, legal liability, higher insurance costs, and heavy fines. The bad news is that greater overall energy usage, combined with higher system voltages and fault currents, have increased the potential for arc flashes and made the work place even more dangerous. The good news is that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) stays abreast of these trends and updates its 70E standard for electrical safety in the workplace every three years.

The goal of NFPA 70E electrical standards is to reduce worker exposure to shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast while they are working in close proximity to energized or potentially energized electrical conductors or circuit parts. The most recent standard, published in 2015, expands many of the electrical safety, training, and maintenance requirements introduced in 2012.

Here’s What Changed in the 2012 Electrical Safety Standard

Safety-related work practices, arc flash hazards, and electrical distribution system maintenance were high on the list of important NFPA 70E changes in 2012. Some of the more significant requirements include:

  • Meetings in which known electrical hazards are communicated to contract employees, enabling them to make informed hazard assessments, must be documented. This requirement also appears in OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.269 guideline.
  • Employees who work near or on energized electrical equipment must receive safety training, preferably instructor-led versus web-based. Retraining is required every three years and must be documented.
  • Facilities are required to conduct annual audits to ensure their employees, including those in the field, are complying with NFPA 70E, OSHA and other safety standards.
  • Facilities must audit — and document — their own safety policy and training programs every three years, and make the necessary policy changes in areas found to be out of compliance.
  • Facility managers are required to conduct electrical equipment maintenance according to manufacturers’ instructions or industry standards. In past NFPA 70E iterations, maintenance was only required for overcurrent protective devices.
  • Managers must keep an updated, legible single-line diagram.
  • Overcurrent protective device maintenance records are required, demonstrating they have been properly maintained, tested and inspected.

The 2015 Standard Expands and Clarifies the 2012 NFPA 70E Standard

The 2015 version of the standard introduces changes intended to create even greater understanding and mitigation of electrical hazards, including more stringent requirements for facility managers to revise and update safety policies. Facility managers should be aware of the following updates.

Better Definition of Terminology: Risk, Hazard and Risk Assessment

In the 2015 standard, hazard identification is defined primarily as the potential for harm from “exposed energized electrical conductors and/or the condition of the equipment.” Risk refers to the “chance or probability that the identified hazard could result in physical harm to the worker, or the unqualified or unprotected persons nearby.”

Hazard Identification

The words “risk” and “risk assessment” have also been more clearly defined:

  • Risk – “A combination of the likelihood of occurrence of injury or damage to health and the severity of injury or damage to health that results from a hazard.”

As a result of these changes, the “arc flash hazard analysis,” “shock hazard analysis,” and electrical hazard analysis” are now referred to, respectively, as “arc flash risk assessment,” “shock risk assessment,” and “electrical risk assessment.”

In addition, “Hazard Risk Categories (HRC)” is now referred to as “Arc Flash PPE Categories,” and shock protection and arc flash protection requirements are evaluated separately.

Clarifying Where PPE May Not Be Required

NFPA 2015 is clear that workers don’t need to take special precautions when they are performing routine procedures on electrical equipment that is considered to be properly installed and maintained. It also stipulates that normal activities, such as switching, are allowed without the use of special PPE if all the following conditions exist:

  • The equipment is properly installed
  • The equipment is properly maintained within the manufacturer’s specifications or industry standards
  • Doors are closed and secured
  • Covers are in place and secured
  • There is no evidence of impending failure

Defining Qualified Workers

To help employers determine if an employee is qualified to work on or around electrical equipment, NFPA 70E 2012 stipulates that a qualified person should be trained and have knowledge in the construction and operation of specific equipment or work methods. They should also be trained to recognize and avoid the electrical hazards related to the equipment or work method.

The 2015 standard adds that to be designated as qualified a worker must be able to use — not just be familiar with — special precautionary techniques, PPE including arc flash suits, insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools and test equipment.

It also stipulates that qualified electrical workers must receive additional training if they work within a specified distance from exposed and energized electrical conductors or circuit parts that operate at 50 volts or more. Medical emergency responders are required to participate in refresher training as well.

Arc Flash Risk Assessments

Until recently NFPA 70E was unclear regarding the method to use for calculating the arc flash boundary distance — should it be manually calculated or should tables provided in the standard be used? While the “table method” doesn’t cost anything and is easier to implement than a manual analysis, tables are not always used properly, putting workers at risk. To clarify the standard and protect worker safety, NFPA 2015 makes it clear that manual assessments are the preferred method for calculating arc flash boundary distance. The standard does, however, allow for the use of the tables under very specific circumstances.

NFPA 2015 preferred method for arc flash boundary distance

General Maintenance Requirements

NFPA 2015 reinforces that qualified workers standard described above, but it also requires maintenance for protective devices to ensure they are able to withstand or interrupt available fault current. The standard requires inspection and testing of these devices consistent with the manufacturers’ specifications or industry standards, including the American National Standards Institute/InterNational Electrical Testing Association Standard for Maintenance Testing Specifications (ANSI/NETA MTS), IEEE 3007.2, and NFPA 70B.

In addition, the results of the tests and inspections must be documented and maintained.

NFPA 70E 2015 also specifies that equipment owners are responsible for electrical equipment maintenance and for the documentation of that maintenance. The 2015 edition of the standard added IEEE 3007.2 Recommended Practice for the Maintenance of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems, as a guideline for maintenance procedures and frequency, along with NFPA70B and ANSI/NETA MTS.

2017 Standards Open for Public Comment

The 2017 edition of NFPA 70E standards is currently in the public comment phase, and it’s too early to know what revised or new guidelines will be included. But here are some of the more significant changes likely to be included in the next edition:

Section 110.5 – Aluminum wiring.  The words “or aluminum” will be added to this section’s paragraph on aluminum wiring. This would reinforce the NEC’s approval of aluminum wiring in buildings, despite resistance from electricians and electrical inspectors. Aluminum’s less expensive as a conducting material and its’ use creates opportunities for its use with on-site generators because the material will enable backup power to be transported for almost two-thirds the cost, less wiring cost.  The implications are enormous for the education industry’s sustainability ambitions.

Section 220.12 – Transformer kVA reduction. A proposal by the Independent Electrical Contractors to permit offices and banks to design their supply circuit capacity according to energy codes is open for second ballot at the Public Comment meetings in San Diego this week.   If it survives the final cut it’ll up to $10 billion in costs annually, a tremendous impact on material, labor, and energy costs associated with electrical power and telecommunications systems. This proposal eliminates ambiguity related to office and administration buildings in the education industry.

section 220.12 of NFPA 70E

With the risks and potential hazards associated with electrical power — including arc flash — on the rise, there is little doubt that NFPA will remain vigilant and proactive about enforcing standards that reduce risk and ensuring worker safety.