NFPA 70E 2012 Marks Full Year of Improving Safety and Adding Value

As previously reported, the second annual NECA Safety Professionals Conference (NSPC) started with a big bang—a series of them, in fact. I am referring to the live arc flash demonstration at the Cooper Bussmann Paul P. Gubany Center for High Power Technology that opened the conference in St. Louis.

The NSPC 2012 was held in cooperation with NECA Premier Partner Westex, a manufacturer of flame-resistant and arc-rated work clothing. Last month, Westex sponsored another training event focused on NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. It also featured live arc flash demos, this time at KEMA-Powertest, the largest high-power electrical testing laboratory in the United States.

The common nexus between arc flash protection, NFPA 70E and personal protective equipment (PPE) is obvious. According to NFPA 70E Annex K.3: “When an electric current passes through air between ungrounded conductors and grounded conductors, the temperatures can reach 35,000°F. Exposure to these extreme temperatures both burns the skin directly and causes ignition of clothing, which adds to the burn injury. The majority of hospital admissions due to electrical accidents are from the arc-flash burns, not from shock. Each year, more than 2,000 people are admitted to burn centers with severe arc-flash burns. Arc flash can and will kill at distances of 10 feet.”

The results of arc flash incidents can be gruesome, painful, life-changing or life-ending. That’s why NFPA 70E expands on OSHA requirements generally prohibiting work on energized electrical equipment and why NECA endorses zero-energy workplaces in its Standing Policy on Safety.

Enforceable by OSHA, NFPA 70E is the standard that tells us how to “turn it off” (de-energize) and “put it on” (PPEappropriate to the task). It was updated last year, with changes throughout. Most of the revisions involve technical issues. However, I’d like to point out some nontechnical changes in the new edition that I think are very important.

The National Electrical Code, NFPA 70E and OSHA have long required that any and all employees and their supervisors who work on or near energized conductors or circuit parts operating at 50 volts or more be trained on related electrical hazards. This requirement applies to facility maintenance workers, machine operators, welders, millwrights, mechanics and a whole host of people in other occupations, even skilled electricians.

NFPA 70E 2012 contains a new provision: “The employer shall determine through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this standard.” Finding evidence of noncompliance triggers a requirement for retraining, but in any case, other new provisions mandate that all covered employees be retrained at intervals not to exceed three years (in keeping with the revision cycle of the standard) and that the employer must document the content of this training, who received it and when.

Similarly, employers are now required to audit the content of their electrical safety program at least every three years to ensure compliance with 70E. Documentation is required here, too. Additionally, a new section requires host employers to hold—and document—a formal meeting with contractors brought in to work on their electrical equipment and systems.

These new requirements can promote closer interaction between host employers and contractors. That’s a good thing. If we can make our customers understand why we do what we do and, thereby, get them to improve their compliance with NFPA 70E, everyone will benefit through improved electrical safety in the workplace.

If we can assist them in conducting those required annual inspections, help them establish good electrical safety programs, meet the new paperwork rules, and even provide required employee training, we can offer new value-added services. And that’s always a good thing, too!

First, of course, we contractors must be up-to-date on the standard. It’s now been just over a year since NFPA 70E 2012 became available. I hope you have thoroughly familiarized yourself and your electricians with this edition by now.

If not, what are you waiting for? An Internet search reveals numerous sources for information and education on NFPA 70E. Many products also are available to help you understand and apply the standard.

Look around and avail yourself of these resources. Complying with NFPA 70E is not only good for you and your customers, it’s downright essential!

About the Author

Dennis F. Quebe

President, NECA
Dennis Quebe is a former president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and contributed the President's Desk column monthly. He took office in January 2012 and served a three-year term.

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