New Electrical Safety Standard Requires Risk Assessment

By Roy Maurer Feb 18, 2015

The 2015 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace introduces a change in how electrical risk is evaluated, updates personal protective equipment (PPE) tables and clarifies restricted approach boundary dimensions, among other provisions.

In particular, the modifications made to the electrical safety standard known as NFPA 70E, represent “another big step in changing the way America works,” said Pete Rice, director of safety, industrial hygiene and environmental programs at ClickSafety, an Alamo, Calif.-based risk management company.

Updated 10 times since its introduction in 1976, the standard responds to the effects of arc flash (electrical fireball), arc blast (electrical explosion) and direct current hazards, and incorporates recent developments in electrical design and PPE, Rice said.

“In a fraction of a second, an electrical incident can claim lives and cause permanent disability injuries. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of burn injuries occur each year due to shock, electrocution, arc blast and arc flash. Most of these can be prevented through compliance with the standard,” he said.

What Is NFPA 70E?

NFPA 70E is a national consensus safety standard that addresses work practices necessary to prevent hazards associated with electrical energy. The standard includes guidance for identifying hazards and assessing risk, selecting appropriate PPE, establishing electrically safe work conditions, and training employees.

NFPA 70E was developed at the request of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to supplement agency’s electrical safety regulations. Even though OSHA doesn’t enforce NFPA 70E, the agency uses it as a compliance tool, recommends it in abatement citations as a best-practice benchmark, and cites employers found not to be in compliance with it under the general duty clause in the event of an injury or death due to an electrical accident.

There are many examples of how clearly the OSHA regulations and the NFPA 70E electrical safety standard work together, Rice said. OSHA requires employers to assess the workplace for electrical hazards and the need for PPE, but how to do that is left up to the individual employer. That’s where the information found in the NFPA standard comes into play. In other words, compliance with NFPA 70E will ensure compliance with OSHA requirements.

In another example, OSHA requires that all servicing of electrical equipment be done in a de-energized state. “Working live” can only be done under special circumstances. NFPA 70E defines those special circumstances and sets rigid electrical safety limits on voltage exposures, work-zone boundary requirements and necessary PPE.

2015 NFPA 70E Changes

There are several significant differences from the previous edition of the standard published in 2012.

The 2015 standard reflects a shift in how electrical risk is evaluated, with more of an emphasis on risk assessments, said Hugh Hoagland, senior managing partner of electrical safety training company e-Hazard Management and president of ArcWear, a global arc flash testing and consulting company.

Previously, risk was established by performing a shock and arc flash analysis. The change to a risk assessment from a hazard analysis “enables a shift in awareness toward the potential for harm,” Rice said. The flash risk assessment also addresses hierarchy of controls such as electrical installation (engineering controls) and work practices.

A risk assessment is now required to be updated after any major renovation or modification to a worksite’s electrical system. A periodic review of no more than five years is also required to determine if any changes have occurred.

The prohibited approach boundary for shock hazards was eliminated in the 2015 edition. Shock hazard boundaries determine when electrical workers must use voltage-rated gloves and tools. The limited approach boundary is the closest an unqualified person can approach exposed energized conductors or circuit parts, and the restricted approach boundary is the point at which a qualified person must wear insulating rubber gloves or take other action to protect themselves from the shock hazard. The prohibited approach boundary was previously considered the same as touching live parts and workers had expressed confusion as to its purpose.

Other changes in the 2015 NFPA 70E include:

  • New safety-related maintenance requirements.
  • A new definition for the energized electrical work permit. The permit describes the work to be performed and why it must be performed live. Live work must be authorized by the customer, engineers or other person in charge.
  • A revised definition of qualified worker. A qualified worker needs to demonstrate he or she has the skills, knowledge and safety training necessary to do the work. “Only the employer can designate someone as qualified,” Hoagland said.
  • The requirement that labels be updated when the risk assessment identifies a change that renders the label inaccurate.
  • A new task-based table to determine when arc flash PPE is required.
  • A new arc flash PPE category/equipment-based table for determining the arc flash PPE category.
  • The requirement that risk assessments be performed prior to any work on a battery system.

The standard requires employee training and demonstrated skill proficiency to be recorded at least every three years. “I would recommend companies go beyond training, to go to auditing and reporting back to the employees what the audit found, and what the compliance rate is,” Hoagland said.

He also recommended annual safe-work practice inspections, and following these simple best practices:

  • Always consider electrical equipment to be energized.
  • Always create an electrically safe work zone.
  • Always wear the required PPE.
  • Always maintain the required approach boundary distances.
  • Never wear conductive articles in areas with electrical hazards.

“If you do these things, most people will not get hurt, ever,” he said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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