To be on the safe side, the working space and space around electrical equipment should always be clear per 110.26(A), if possible. As a basic rule, there should be at least 3 feet of space in front of all equipment with a 30 inch width as well as 6½ feet of headroom space. This working space and clear space, if provided correctly, should aid in the approval process and will certainly limit the contractor’s exposure to legal action in the case of an accident where a worker bypassed the label’s warning or the recommendations of a written procedure pertaining to the electrical equipment involved.
The side-to-side clearance requirement in 110.26(A)(2) has always been a point of controversy. It demands 30 inches for elbow room directly in front (side-to-side) of the electrical equipment. This clearance requirement must not be confused with the 3-foot-minimum rule outlined in Table 110.26(A)(1). The clearances in Table 110.26(A)(1) deal with two voltage levels: 0 to 150 volts and more than 150 to 600 volts. Condition 1 covers situations where there are energized exposed live parts in front of electrical personnel and, for instance, an insulated wall behind the worker’s back. Condition 2 covers an installation where there is a grounded concrete wall. Condition 3 covers an installation where there is electrical equipment behind and in front of the worker.
Measure the 30-inch-wide space from the center of the electrical equipment so that maximum separation from grounded surfaces and other exposed live parts on both sides of the equipment is provided. This is supposed to permit the use of both hands and provide less physically restricted movement while working on energized exposed live parts in the electrical equipment enclosure. This also helps prevent the possibility of shock or electrocution while working on energized equipment.
Appropriate headroom space with adequate illumination requires serious consideration and analysis prior to installation of the electrical equipment. Sections 110.26(A)(3), 110.26(E) and 110.26(D) require proper headroom space and illumination for the working space in and around service equipment, switchboards, panelboards and motor control centers. These are in addition to requirements outlined in 110.26(A)(1) through (A)(3).
Requirements for headroom space and adequate illumination make good sense. For example, 110.26(D) requires the installation of lighting units to provide the necessary lighting to illuminate the clear work space at indoor service equipment, switchboards, panelboards and motor control centers, while in addition, the requirements of 110.26(E) requires the work space area to be clear and free from obstructions to a height of at least 6½ feet.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) demands adequate lighting of equipment, so workers and maintenance personnel will have illumination and will not have to resort to the use of drop lights, hand-held flashlights or, even worse, no light. This headroom requirement, outlined in 110.26(E), assures workers they will be able to stand in front of the electrical equipment while performing maintenance or repairs without having to crouch, bend or lean over another piece of equipment. Such height allows workers with enough clear space to stand in a safe zone and perform their task comfortably and includes a fast, illuminated escape route if a problem should occur.
Because the requirements of 110.26 (A)(1) through (A)(3) and 110.26(D) and (E) are related to the consideration of providing personnel safety, one should always ask “Do these requirements pertain to all types of electrical equipment?” The answer is no.
Every electrical equipment installation must be evaluated, and where possible, the proper clearances should be provided. However, in many new and existing installations, proper clearance may not be possible. Therefore, the designer, contractor and the authority having jurisdiction should take that into consideration when verifying if less working space around electrical equipment, as well as clearances, is allowed. Remember, 110.26 deals with sufficient workspace that will permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of equipment. The question to ponder is how much space and room is needed to perform such task(s) when the exposed conductors and parts are de-energized and safe to work on. Section 110.26(A) makes it clear that the requirements cover equipment with exposed parts being worked on or serviced while they are energized.
Designers, contractors and inspectors should work together to ensure the compliance with the minimum requirements of the NEC. Good judgment should be exercised in order to recognize installations of equipment where an alternate method, as mentioned in this article, may be necessary with the built-in safety procedures outlined. Without a doubt, designers, contractors and inspectors of equipment installations must protect those servicing and maintaining installed electrical equipment. EC
STALLCUP is the CEO of Grayboy Inc., which develops and authors publications for the electrical industry and specializes in classroom training on the NEC, OSHA, and other standards. Contact him at 817.581.2206.