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FR/Electrical Safety-NFPA 70E Standard

History:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and Survey of Occupational Injuries data compiled by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), there were 154 electrical fatalities in the U.S. during 2016, a 15% increase over the 2015 total.

Exposure to electric current increased one place, to sixth on the list of occupational exposures leading to fatal injuries on the job. And electrocutions constituted the vast majority of electrical fatalities, while electrical burns of all degrees were responsible for four fatalities in 2016.

Despite these bleak numbers, decades ago, the grim statistics of fatalities and serious injuries stemming from electrical accidents were even worse. This is why on February 16, 1972, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) incorporated the 1971 edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) National Electrical Code (NEC), NFPA 70-1971, as the electrical standard for general industry. On January 16, 1981, OSHA revised its electrical installation standard, replacing the incorporation by reference of the 1971 NEC with relevant requirements from Part 1 of the 1979 edition of NFPA 70E. This revision simplified and clarified the electrical standard.

In 1981, safety-related work practice requirements were added, and in 1995, the concepts of “limits of approach” and “arc flash” were introduced. The last two decades have concentrated on personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and the development of electrical safety programs and policies by employers.

The current emphasis is on a business’ duty to have a comprehensive electrical safety program that is integrated with the occupational health and safety management system. The 2015 edition defined risk-management terminology and aligned the standard’s requirements to risk management principles.

Why Standard is Important:
The previous fatality statistics give additional support to the widely recognized characterization of electricity being a serious workplace hazard. The human body will conduct electricity if direct body contact is made with an electrically energized part, while similar contact is made at the same time with another conductive surface.

Simply put, electricity will find the fastest and easiest way to the ground, even if that is through a human body. Currents at levels as low as 3 milliamperes traveling through the body can cause serious, even fatal, injuries.

The NFPA created the NFPA 70E standard to address the electrical safety requirements for employees. Also titled as Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, NFPA 70E was originally developed at OSHA’s request. In fact, some suggest OSHA writes the safety decrees companies are required to follow and NFPA describes to businesses how they should follow them.

NFPA 70E assists companies in complying with OSHA 1910 Subpart S and OSHA 1926 Subpart K. The standard helps companies and employees avoid workplace injuries and fatalities due to shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast.

Burns due to electrical accidents can be very serious. There are three basic types: electrical, which are the result of electric current flowing through the tissues; arc burns, which are the result of high temperatures produced by electric arcs or explosions close to the body; and thermal contact burns, which are typically caused by skin coming into contact with hot surfaces, such as electric conductors, conduits or other energized equipment. Any of these burns can happen simultaneously with each other.

Additionally, electric arcs can start fires and cause damage to equipment. In environments that have explosive gases or vapors or combustible dust in them, electric arcs can cause explosions.

Electrical accidents are usually caused by unsafe conditions of some variety due to unsafe equipment and installations, unsafe work environments or work practices, or a combination of all three.

Key Compliance Requirements:
As in 2015, the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E continues to focus on risk management principles. Some of the major changes for 2018 are:

  • Risk Assessment Procedure: This requirement emphasizes addressing human error and its negative consequences.
  • Hierarchy of Risk Controls Methods: Listed according to their priority, they are the following:
    • 1. Elimination
    • 2. Substitution
    • 3. Engineering controls
    • 4. Awareness
    • 5. PPE
  • Establishing an Electrically Safe Work Condition: These are a set of instructions on how to logically set up an electrical safety program.
  • Estimating the Likelihood of Occurrence of an Arc Flash Incident: This is a table to help assess the risk of an arc flash and applies to the incident energy analysis method.
  • Selection of Arc-Rated Clothing using Incident Energy Analysis Method: This is a table providing guidance on how to select gear when using the incident energy analysis method.

Compliance Assistance:
Copies of the standard can be purchased online from: https://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=70E
From more information, please visit: www.nfpa.org

SPONSORED BY: Tingley Rubber Corporation
NFPA 70E is a key tool in easing the burden on Safety Professionals when it comes to the selection of appropriate rainwear. By simply stating that to be compliant with the standard, rainwear must comply with ASTM F1891, decision-makers do not have to worry about different stated levels of performance, job function or a hazard risk assessment: they can just find a product they like from a reputable manufacturer that meets the ASTM F1891 standard. —Brian Nutt, Product Director, Protective Clothing
Tingley Rubber Corporation, 800-631-5498, www.tingleyrubber.com

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