NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is voluntary in the sense that it hasn’t been adopted directly as an official law. In effect, it’s every bit as mandatory as any of the electrical--related rules enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the state-run safety agencies that are required to be “at least as effective” as the federal agency.

In 1976, OSHA requested that the National Fire Protection Association develop a standard that would assist employers and employees in complying with the government’s rules on the operation and maintenance of electrical systems. The result—NFPA 70E—is the “industry consensus standard” referenced in that OSHA standard and the subsequent one on electrical power generation, transmission and distribution.

Therefore, failure to abide by 70E can be cited under these specific OSHA standards as well as the “general duty clause” of the OSH Act, which states that an employer “shall furnish to each of its 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 employees.”

So, if a customer or an employee asks if he is required to follow NFPA 70E, the short answer is “yes.”

Of course, business necessity and common courtesy often require a longer answer, especially when the follow-up question begins with “why.” In last month’s letter, I discussed why applying safe electrical work practices properly, consistently and on every job is so important: as the statistics bear out, uncontrolled electrical hazards maim and kill.

I also suggested that explaining the intricacies of energized work permits to customers is often sufficient to persuade them to agree to not working hot in their facilities. Our electrical workers need us to do some explaining, too.

That means you, the employer, must first develop a basic understanding of NFPA 70E. An Internet search will reveal dozens of sources for training on the standard, but I recommend you start by going to www.necanet.org/job/safety/webinars. There you can view recorded National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) presentations on 70E and personal protective equipment (PPE) and related subjects. These Webinars are free and available to all industry participants, regardless of NECA affiliation, and they are a starting point for what you need to teach employees.

I’m assuming your company provides regular safety training for workers. Please don’t tell me your safety programs have been forsaken due to the bad economy! An article by NECA Safety Director Jerry Rivera reprinted in this month’s “NECA Notes” section on page 167 explains why “Cutting Safety Costs More Than You Might Think.”

Although NFPA 70E training is only a single component of what should be a much broader safety program, it cannot be accomplished in a single session. Refresher training should be provided on a regular basis and updated as needed to keep pace with changes in OSHA standards and the 70E standard itself. At a minimum, employee training should cover the following:

• Requirements for an electrically safe work condition as defined in 70E

• How to recognize and avoid hazards associated with each specific task to be performed

• Using PPE and insulated tools in accordance with 70E requirements

• Detailed information about energized work permits and why they should not be used except in certain specific situations

• Lockout/tagout procedures

NECA offers resources to help you with PPE, lockout/tagout and related issues. Go to www.necanet.org/store and enter the keyword “safety” in the “Search the Store” feature.

I also recommend that you consult Westex Inc. (www.westexinc.com) if you need more information on flame-resistant clothing, and if you want to know more about insulated tools so that you don’t waste money on tools that are so heavy or awkward your workers resist using them, check with Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. (www.milwaukeetool.com). These companies, along with Graybar (www.graybar.com), are NECA’s Premier Partners, so we can have a lot of confidence in their advice.

Please don’t think of me as a pitchman. My point is that your company can implement NFPA 70E effectively only if your employees embrace it. They, and your customers, need to be made aware that your firm is fully committed to this standard because you care about them not only as sources of production and revenue but as human beings worth protecting. Caring is an unexpendable commodity in any economy.