Ken Mastrullo is having a busy year. Between February and June 2005, the NFPA 70E senior electrical specialist traveled to 15 different sites in the United States and Canada to educate groups about the standard that is defining electrical safety. His activity is the result of a heightened effort by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to train its inspectors to understand the details of 70E, which allows them to better decide when citations are necessary and how to make them stick. “OSHA is ramping up their efforts and they're becoming more technically astute,” Mastrullo said.

What that means for electrical contractors is OSHA is better prepared to recognize and cite companies based on noncompliance with their guidelines and 70E's recommendations. The number of citations has already increased in some states, and contractors are feeling the pressure.

But it does not have to be an adversarial arrangement, as NECA members at the Penn-Del-Jersey Chapter have shown. There, the NECA chapter has teamed up with OSHA and the local IBEW to help contractors work within 70E guidelines. They are not only training contractors about 70E, they are training them to train others.

“70E is here and it's here to stay,” said Thomas McNulty, director of education at the Penn-Del-Jersey NECA chapter. “I'm glad it's come to the forefront. We've lost too many guys in the past, and there's no reason for it.”

He added that teaming with OSHA has made the process more effective. “We used to think we had to keep (OSHA) at arms length,” McNulty said. Today they are partners in creating safe workplaces.

For those who have not been following NFPA 70E, this list of guidelines addresses electrical safety requirements for electricians, facility personnel or anyone else who works on, or around, exposed energized electrical conductors and circuit parts. While the standard is not enforceable, compliance with it ensures compliance with OSHA regulations that are enforceable. As OSHA employees get a better understanding of what 70E recommends, they are better able to cite workers who are not following its guidelines and are therefore not complying with OSHA's more general requirements.

If a contractor employee were to suffer an injury or death due to an electrical accident, and OSHA determines that compliance with 70E would have prevented or lessened the injury, OSHA may cite the employer under the “general duty clause” for not using the techniques and requirements of 70E to protect the employee.

If an employee is working in an unsafe manner, even if the employer has trained him otherwise, the OSHA citation will go to the employee-unless there is proof that the employer had disciplined that employee for unsafe practices in the past, which would allow for an “employee misconduct” ruling by OSHA, Mastrullo said. Even in that case, the discipline needs to be in writing.

“If it's not in writing, it didn't happen,” Mastrullo said.

To help contractors get their companies into compliance, NECA offers a course in 70E, which has been available for several years. The NECA course, Developing an Electrical Safety Program, will be upgraded to include more 70E information, said Brooke Stauffer, NECA executive director of standards and safety.

In the regions where OSHA has begun its greatest focus on 70E, contractors are doing what they need to do to provide a safe workplace: training their employees, enforcing the safety standards with their electricians and acquiring the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and learning when and how to use the equipment.

One good example is OSHA's Region 5, which encompasses the Midwestern United States. Here, NECA chapters are using Mastrullo's services and other training courses to be compliant with 70E. In Ohio, where OSHA has been actively issuing citations and enforcing safety standards as well as becoming very effective at making citations stick, NECA members have become well educated in a short period of time. Mastrullo said he ranked Ohio as the state where electrical contractors have the most 70E knowledge and the best safety practices. Close behind are the other Region 5 states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.

These states are becoming success stories in Mastrullo's mind. Not necessarily because of the greater number of citations but the resulting safety improvements. Ultimately, failing to comply with 70E may not even save money.

“Paying out of workman's comp, that's an expense,” Mastrullo said. “No action is an action and it can be an expensive one.”

There are other training options as well. Lewellyn Technology, Linton, Ind., provides training to maintenance personnel. They make 70E a big part of what they do. Vice President John Klinger said the company also provides plants with information they need about their own electrical equipment and labels to put on equipment. That label, which tells what data says about that equipment and how it will need to be handled during maintenance, offers contractors or plant employees the information they need to make safe choices, Klinger said.

For example, an electrician comes across a piece of equipment-he now needs to make a choice: go out to the truck to review the 70E standards book for the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and method for working with that equipment or opt to take his chances. Often, he said, electricians taken the latter, riskier choice.

“A lot of plants aren't doing anything about identifying the electrical hazards,” Klinger said. “As a result, there is no labeling on the equipment to say what level of PPE they need. A lot of companies are saying they will buy the PPEs and give their people the training. That's fantastic.”

According to Klinger, however, a piece of the training is still missing. “How do you know what you bought them is appropriate for any particular job? How do you know you haven't created another hazard? If you take the time to do the hazard analysis, you will save money,” he said.

Klinger warned that throwing more PPEs at a safety problem was not the right solution, thinking there's a hazard in making a worker wear too much. He also said that many electricians wear the restrictive PPEs when the supervisor is present, but later the protective gear comes off.

“There's the feeling of 'I've been doing this for 20 years without all the PPEs,'” Kilinger said.

Making the right PPEs available for the right job could help alleviate that problem, although not many contractors fully do that, he said. “It's something a lot of people haven't thought all the way through.”

OSHA does not allow electricians to work with more than 50 volts live. Penn-Del-Jersey's McNulty said that while many contractors used to feel that working with hot lines came with the territory, it is both the contractor's and facility owner's responsibility to see that the equipment is shut off before working.

“It behooves everyone to shut this stuff down,” McNulty said.

He said that contractors needed to not only train their contractors not to work live, they needed to assert to their customers that point as well.

While most owners would not argue with shutting off their power to ensure safety to the electrician as well as the equipment, “A lot of times we don't push enough. Sometimes it's just because they think it's an inconvenience,” McNulty said.

Beyond all the concerns, a change in the culture of safety is taking place, beginning with new apprentices who receive training in PPE and safe practices. As Mastrullo wrote in a recent essay, “minimizing the hazard is the biggest obstacle to an electrical safe workplace ... it is common to hear people say that they received a 'mild shock' or 'we have done this for years without a problem, we do not need personal protective equipment.'”

Manufacturers are striving to make PPEs more comfortable and nonrestrictive as well. In the meantime, orders for PPEs are at an all-time high.

Unifirst sells PPEs such as coveralls, gloves and boots. Since 70E was released, the company's business has increased steadily.

“The FR apparel market has been growing at a rate of 10 percent a year for the past four years-and that growth has been driven, in large part, by the NFPA 70E standard,” said Unifirst's Ken Tokarz. “In turn, UniFirst's business for Flame Resistant (FR) protective apparel has literally doubled over the past two years in both our garment rental and purchase programs.”

In Philadelphia, the Penn-Del-Jersey NECA Chapter has made 70E a chapter-wide standard. The most important point for McNulty is working with OSHA to get the word out. At the time of publication, 53 of the chapter's 150 members had completed 70E training and were working to train those they met on the field.

“It's not the norm,” McNaulty said. “but I think it's the right approach.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.