Overview of the 2015 NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace

Oct 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Health and Safety

EHS Journal - Tools by Cintia Martins

According to Occupational Injuries from Electrical Shock and Arc Flash Events, a report released by the Fire Protection Research Foundation in March 2015, nearly 6,000 fatal electrical injuries to workers occurred in the United States between 1992 and 2013. From 2003 through 2012, more than 24,000 non-fatal electrical injuries occurred. To help prevent injuries and fatalities associated with electrical shock and arc flash hazards, The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) developed NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. NFPA 70E was originally issued in 1979, and has been revised several times, most recently in 2015. This article reviews key changes found in the 2015 edition.

 

What is the NFPA?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is an international nonprofit organization established in 1896. Its mission is “to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.” NFPA is the world’s foremost advocate in the area of fire prevention and public fire safety including developing requirements for safe work practices to protect personnel by reducing exposure to major electrical hazards.

 

History of NFPA 70E

The NFPA’s Standards Council announced on January 7, 1976 the formal appointment of a new electrical standards development committee. Designated the Committee on Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces, NFPA 70E, this new committee reported to the Association through the Technical Correlating Committee on National Electrical Code®. This committee was formed to assist The U.S. Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration (OSHA) in preparing electrical safety standards that would serve OSHA’s needs and that could be expeditiously promulgated through the provisions of Section 6(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

 

Is NFPA 70E the Law?

One of the questions most frequently asked about NFPA 70E is whether employers are legally required to follow the consensus standard. The short answer is that employers are not required to follow the standard, but following the standard is advised for many reasons including

  • Improved worker protection, which should result in fewer accidents and fatalities;
  • Greater consistency in electrical safety programs among facilities and between companies;
  • Ability to demonstrate to regulators and other stakeholders that the company follows the highest standards for worker safety; and
  • Enhanced ability to show the company’s compliance with OSHA’s General Duty Clause.

OSHA relies upon the consensus standards established by NFPA 70E when establishing its regulations for electrical safety in the workplace. So, while conformance to the NFPA 70E standard itself is not required by law, it does establish the safety guidelines that enable employers to comply with OSHA regulations dealing with electrical workplace safety and required employee training.

Compliance with NFPA 70E also helps employers meet the performance requirements of the General Duty Clause provided in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which states that an employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

 

What’s New in the 2015 Edition?

The 2015 edition of NFPA 70E reflects a major shift in how stakeholders evaluate electrical risk. Throughout the document changes were made to provide clarity to users, such as changing “arc flash hazard analysis” to “arc flash risk assessment,” and “shock hazard analysis” to “shock risk assessment.” These changes ensure consistency between NFPA 70E and other standards that address hazards and risk.

Other major revisions include:

  • Maintenance and auditing — Safety-related maintenance requirements and other administrative controls were added to the scope of the standard to clarify that maintenance and auditing are equally important safety-related work practices.
  • Risk of failure — Electrical safety programs must now include elements that consider the condition of maintenance and the risk of impending failure.
  • Training — Greater emphasis is focused on training for qualified and unqualified employees, including evaluating comprehension and retention.
  • Arc flash PPE tables — A new task-based table combines the separate alternating current and direct current tables that were previously used to determine when arc flash PPE was required. This table lists the tasks, equipment condition, and arc flash PPE required. New equipment-based tables were also added for determining the arc flash PPE category.
  • Test instruments — Maintenance requirements were added for test instruments and associated test leads utilized in the verification of the absence or presence of voltages

 

Conclusion

The changes in the NFPA 70E standard clarified many of the expectations of the standard and added new tables and tools that should allow for enhanced conformance to the standard and a higher degree of workplace protection. Although compliance with NFPA 70E is not explicitly required by U.S. law, conformance with the standard will enable employers to demonstrate their commitment to electrical safety in the workplace, guard against possible legal claims made under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, and more importantly, protect employees from the all-to-frequent injuries and fatalities caused by electricity.

 

About the Author

Brian Keith is a health and safety consultant with more than 20 years of experience in highly hazardous workplaces. As a senior consultant at Environmental Resources Management (ERM), Brian specializes in health and safety compliance and performance improvement programs, investigations of serious injuries and fatalities, safety management systems, and electrical safety. In the area of NFPA 70E, Brian conducts program audits and assessments, develops written procedures and performance improvement approaches, and provides employee training.

 

Also in the EHS Journal – Arc Flash Videos

Want to see the deadly force of an arc flash explosion? Click here to watch three short video clips.

 

Photograph: Tools by Cíntia Martins, São Paolo, Brazil.

 

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