NFPA 70E 2018: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

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Exposure to electricity resulted in 154 workplace fatalities and 1,850 cases with days away from work in 2014, according to the 2017 edition of the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts” data. Industry consensus standards like The National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) article 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, are designed to provide safe work practices and protect personnel by reducing risk when exposed to electrical hazards.

NFPA 70E requirements are updated every three years. Here’s a look at what you need to know about this year’s revision.

Job safety planning: Previously, a simple job safety briefing sufficed. Now, a written safety plan must be made for all electrical work where employees are exposed to electrical hazards. The condition and maintenance of equipment now must also be accounted for in the plan.

Equipment labeling: The new exception to 130.5(H) allows for possible alternatives to traditional labeling of equipment providing the option for a digital smart label in the form of a barcode or QR code.

These labels can link to a central database and give workers easier access to the same necessary hazard information, such as voltage and current and energy levels normally printed directly on the equipment.

Risk assessment procedure: One of the more significant updates, the risk assessment procedure now specifically requires electrical workers to address human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, work environments and equipment.

Organizations are required to incorporate the following hierarchy of control methods (in order of priority) to more effectively reduce risk to an acceptable level. This revision takes into consideration that personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered only as the last line of defense for protecting against injury — not preventing an incident from happening.

NFPA 70E Hierarchy of Controls
Hierarchy of Controls

Arc flash risk assessment:  This section has been revised and moved — now Table 130.5(C). The table can be used for both ways of doing an arc flash risk assessment — it now also applies to the incident energy analysis. The assessment protocol is: 1) identify arc flash hazards, 2) estimate the likelihood of occurrence of injury or damage to health and the potential severity of injury or damage to health and 3) determine if additional protective measures are required.

PPE selection. Formerly part of the Annex material, this table [now Table 130.5(G)] has moved into the standard’s mandatory text. The table provides guidance on the selection of PPE based on the calculated level of incident energy. Based on how the table has separated the different incident energy levels, it leads the user to a more simplified approach to selecting PPE (i.e. using a 2 level simplified approach rather than have 4 or 5 categories to choose from).

Creating a culture of safety

While the NFPA 70E guidelines provide a comprehensive framework, it’s important to remember that there’s no cookie cutter recipe for managing electrical safety. It largely depends on the facility and the industry in which your business operates. Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Perform preventative maintenance. Don’t be a run to fail facility that can never shut down operations and do maintenance. The longer you go without maintenance the more risk you put into the system. By regularly monitoring and testing all the critical elements of your electrical distribution system (transformers, breakers, generators, etc.) you can start to develop trend lines around the life expectancy of a specific piece of equipment so it’s less of a guessing game.
  • De-energize equipment. Mitigate any potential risks by removing the hazard entirely. With de-energized equipment there is no arc flash hazard, no chance of damaging equipment and no shock or electrocution danger. This might be more of a challenge for mission critical facilities like hospitals or an older facility that doesn’t have the necessary redundancy. Each facility must establish their acceptable level of risk.
  • Sectionalize equipment. Instead of having a large, open control panel you can sectionalize off the different voltage levels. This way workers don’t have to shut down the entire panel because they’ve effectively protected themselves from being exposed to or shocked by higher voltages.

As NFPA 70E notes, electrical safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees and requires a collaborative effort to keep everyone safe.

To learn more about the latest NFPA 70E updates and how they impact your organization, download our webinar here


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