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Maintenance Updates in 70B: What has changed in the move to standard?

By Derek Vigstol | May 14, 2024
Maintenance Updates in 70B: What has changed in the move to standard?
May is Electrical Safety Month, which is a great time to reflect on the concepts and procedures that keep us safe. I thought this would be a good opportunity to focus on what needs to happen before we even start on a task. Let’s have a little chat about electrical equipment maintenance and what it means.

May is Electrical Safety Month, which is a great time to reflect on the concepts and procedures that keep us safe. Instead of discussing PPE levels or how often we need to test gloves, I thought this would be a good opportunity to focus on what needs to happen before we even start on a task. Let’s have a little chat about electrical equipment maintenance and what it means.

The basics

NFPA 70B has undergone a massive shift from a recommended practice to a full-blown industry consensus standard. All the recommendations are now in mandatory language (at least the ones that made the cut, anyway). Beyond that, what does this mean for electrical safety?

Several cycles ago, NFPA 70E added language indicating that it is OK to operate electrical equipment while energized—if you can determine that the equipment is in a normal operating condition. This condition is defined as being properly installed, used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, with all the doors and covers closed and secured, with no evidence of impending failure and, of course, properly maintained. More conditions have recently been added, but these are the basics.

Training requirements

What does “properly maintained” mean? Obviously, if the equipment manufacturer has recommendations for maintenance, they should be followed. But a lot of the electrical equipment we interface with daily has outdated recommendations—or none at all. What do we do then? And who is going to be the one to do it? This is where NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance comes into play.

As with NFPA 70E, there are certain training requirements. The qualified people performing maintenance need to be trained in the specific maintenance tasks, test methods, test equipment, PPE usage (as applicable) and hazards associated with the electrical equipment or system being maintained. Additionally, they must also be trained in how to do these tasks safely per NFPA 70E and OSHA 1910 Subpart S or 1910.269, depending on the system.

An electrical to-do list

However, there is very little in the document that meets personnel needs. The information and requirements in NFPA 70B are designed to help the equipment owner build an electrical maintenance program. Think of NFPA 70B like a list of what needs to be done and how often we need to do it. Before anyone can safely work on equipment, the qualified person should ask management and equipment owners, “What are you doing for maintenance on this equipment?”

NFPA 70B’s system for maintaining electrical equipment contributes to reliability and safety. It holds owners responsible for building a maintenance program, performing regular equipment assessments and understanding the impact of maintenance (or the lack thereof) on the safety of their employees and contractors. NFPA 70B details how to determine if equipment is serviceable or not, or only to a limited extent. 

But the crux of NFPA 70B is detailing what maintenance needs to be performed and how often, based on the condition of the equipment. The worse the equipment’s condition is, the more frequently it needs proper maintenance.

Maintenance matters

Having a clear understanding of whether equipment is properly maintained sets us off on the right foot for the work. Even something as simple as creating an electrically safe work condition (de-energized, locked and verified) is affected by the condition of maintenance. If we do things right, the risk of injury is low, but if we let the equipment become unpredictable, then all bets are off. We have to be vigilant on every job, all of the time.

Next time you are asked to find a problem, repair a critical system that went down or even just turn off a machine, don’t forget to ask about the maintenance. A lack of maintenance could mean the difference between just another mundane day on the job or a trip to the hospital—and a potentially tragic effect on you and your family for the rest of your life. 

Until next time, stay safe and remember to always test before you touch!

stock.adobe.com / Golden Sikorka

About The Author

Vigstol is an electrical safety consultant for E-Hazard, a provider of electrical safety consulting and training services. He is also the co-host of E-Hazard’s electrical safety podcast “Plugged Into Safety.” For more information, check out www.e-hazard.com.

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