You probably know the 2024 edition of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is here. We got an extra-special treat with this revision cycle: an early release date. The NFPA Standards Council issued the new edition in April, which became effective on May 13. If you hadn't heard, you don't need to hit the panic button and scramble to update your whole electrical safety program. It came out so early because there were no challenges to 70E at NFPA’s annual meeting. Frankly, there just wasn’t a reason to file an amending motion. Very few revisions moved the needle.
This article addresses how an employer needs to handle revisions to industry consensus standards. With so few major revisions, there is no need to write up the changes in NFPA 70E here. Plenty of people have covered this topic in-depth, and if you want to learn where the committee moved commas and added the word electric in front of shock, check out “2024 NFPA 70E Update,” in the May 2023 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.
When and how?
The specific question I get is, “When do we need to start following the new edition?”
When does the change happen? On the Standards Council’s effective date. As of May 13, the previous edition no longer applies. NFPA 70E is not like the National Electrical Code where local jurisdictions adopt different editions on their own schedule.
In the NFPA universe, 70E follows the mantra, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Reality doesn’t really work this way and employers have some time to learn the new requirements and implement them into their program. After all, compliance with NFPA 70E is voluntary as one method to comply with the requirements put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and OSHA's rules aren’t being revised every three years like NFPA 70E.
When an employer needs to convert to the newer edition of NFPA 70E depends on the employer. If NFPA 70E is only the basis for your electrical safety program, then the time frame is completely up to you. However, there are some issues to consider that might steer a decision.
First, would any of the revisions substantially improve the level of safety of our employees around electricity? Remember, OSHA doesn’t enforce NFPA 70E, but it is the established industry practice. Therefore, if NFPA 70E changes and the revision would provide a safer work environment, then the established industry practice has improved.
If we don’t shift work practices accordingly, it could be viewed as though we are not providing a workplace free from known and recognized hazards. If an employee is hurt because of this, there might be very serious consequences, in addition to the tragic event of an employee injury.
Next, consider how the revisions will affect our electrical safety program (ESP). Ask yourself if you even want to incorporate these items.
For instance, one revision is an exception to the requirement that an electrically safe work condition (ESWC) is established. This new exception allows the energized operation of a switch or other type of isolating device not in a normal operating condition for the purpose of creating an ESWC. However, NFPA 70E also states that operating a switch in abnormal operating conditions poses an increased likelihood of an arc flash.
Employers must decide whether this new exception is something they want to allow. Current ESPs might already provide a greater level of safety than NFPA 70E, so incorporating these revisions would be a downgrade.
The important concept here is that ESPs should be reviewed at least every three years and assessed to understand if the new NFPA 70E revisions move in a positive direction or are taking us backwards. The primary purpose is to create an environment that is as safe to work in as possible. While NFPA 70E is a big part of the success and improvement of electrical safety in the workplace, the baton is now passed to the employer to build their own idea of what electrical safety looks like, so long as it exceeds the established industry practice.
With the 2024 edition having so few major revisions, the time is right to ensure your ESP carries the correct message of electrical safety and moves to a workplace where employees are safe from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.
Header image: Getty Images / Alexandr Makarov