Risk Mitigation and NFPA 70E

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For those of you that joined the Arc Flash webinar for the Oil and Gas industry on Friday, January 23, 2015, you know that we addressed three key updates contained in NFPA 70E-15: the requirement for Risk Assessments, new requirements for working on energized equipment, and updates to arc flash labels. While reading on the broader topic of risk management, I was pleasantly surprised to see how 70E standards can be applied to seemingly unrelated contexts to reduce risk and improve safety. For example, Will Jennings wrote a short article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Olympics as a Story of Risk Management”; the case discusses the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) updated risk management strategies that have reduced risk over the years, a tall order after Atlanta’s games in 1996 were dubbed the “glitch games”.

111280HBelow is a sample of the risk management steps applied by the IOC on their road to managing risks at the Vancouver games in 2010 and the London games in 2012:

  1. “Stress testing and scenario planning” – The host country held numerous military exercises on the River Thames prior to the Olympics, and they drilled multiple scenarios on the Olympic grounds in preparation for potential hazards.
  2. Continued audits between site selection and the beginning of the games – A Coordination Commission is selected to visit selectees prior to the games in order to identify both operational and project administration risks.
  3. Use of risk databases – these databases and associated surveillance programs maintain awareness of potential hazards.
  4. Standardization of bidding process and leadership backing – Potential host sites now need signatures form key political figures and authorities to show their support of the event.

Jennings highlights that the IOC shifted postures towards risk in that “risk mitigation is now integrated into decision-making and operations, and (it is) no longer treated as just an input into the calculation of insurance premiums.”

In like manner to the four IOC risk management points above, the NFPA requires organizations to enact safety programs that support employee efforts to

  1. identify hazards
  2. assess risks
  3. implement risk controls

A cursory glance at the NFPA’s requirements and the IOC’s standards of practice reveals that the NFPA’s identification of hazards (A) relates to the IOC’s use of (3) risk databases; assessing risks (B) is related to stress testing and scenario planning (1); implementing risk controls (C) aligns with the IOC’s standardized bidding process (4).  Moreover, the 70E requirement adds that job briefings are to be performed prior to the start of a job and throughout the job if changes occur at the site that may impact employee safety; this continued analysis throughout the process relates to the ongoing audits of selected sites to continually identify and mitigate risks.

Although very direct and application focused, 70E illustrates that the NFPA, like the IOC, desires a proactive stance to prevent incidents before they occur. The forward looking aspect of NFPA 70E is captured in the risk controls promulgated in the document: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, awareness, administrative controls, and PPE. The first five controls listed are forward looking in their attempts to identify and mitigate incidents and injury; only after all steps have been taken to mitigate the hazard is the final element of PPE covered to reduce the impacts of injury after an event occurs.

In summary, the IOC went from hosting the “glitch games” in the 1990s to much smoother operations since 2010 by implementing standardization, training, and raising risk awareness. Similarly, the NFPA provides employers of electrical workers with risk mitigation steps for their overall energy risk management plan to support identification and assessment of risks prior to implementing controls.

What other disparate contexts have you observed that illustrate how 70E’s principles can be applied outside of electrical safety? Conversely, what risk mitigation strategies have you seen outside of electrical safety that can be applied to our industry to help us better mitigate risk?

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