Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Electrical Safety and Arc Flash Hazard Standard NFPA 70E

Cities as employers must be in compliance with NFPA 70E and have an up-to-date electrical safety program in place. Affected workers must be trained on the hazards, procedures, and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Hazard evaluations and risk assessments must be done and compliant labels placed on all affected electrical equipment.

Compliance can be done either in-house or with the assistance of an outside contractor. There are several contractors and electrical engineering firms that can assist with compliance. Whether done in-house or by an outside contractor, cities should be completely familiar with the NFPA 70E standard in order to be able to make changes as they grow, change, or add new services, equipment and employees. Retraining of employees and auditing the program on a regular basis are also part of compliance.

The Minnesota Safety Council has upcoming training programs for Electrical Safety in the Workplace: NFPA 70E starting in November 30, 2012, and in March and April of 2013. The course details, dates and times can be viewed at the Minnesota Safety Council website at http://www.minnesotasafetycouncil.org/courses/course.cfm

If an outside contractor is used for assistance in development of programs, compliance, and hazard assessment and risk evaluations, a qualified person should be used to oversee the work and implementation of the program. Multiple detailed bids for the work should be obtained. The proposed work should be reviewed to ensure that the work complies with and meets all aspects of the standard. The person heading up the implementation or updating of the Electrical Safety Policy and program should be trained and familiar with the entire NFPA 70E standard to ensure that the finished programs and policies are in compliance with the current version of the standard. In the end, the city is responsible for the program to ensure that they are in compliance and that employees are properly trained and protected.

Employees who work on—or perform work or maintenance on—electrical equipment must be adequately trained and knowledgeable on the construction and operation of the equipment, and be trained to recognize and avoid electrical hazards. They must be trained on the proper selection and use of personal protective equipment needed for each task to protect themselves from the associated hazards. Initial training must be done for all affected employees. Retraining must be done at least every three years, or after any major renovation or change in equipment or procedures.

Is your electrical safety program in compliance and up to date? In the period from 2004 to 2007, there were 13,150 serious injuries and 1,212 fatal workplace accidents related to electrical contact or burns including arc flash burns.

OSHA requires all employers to provide their employees with a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that may cause death or serious injury. OSHA outlines Electrical Safety-related workplace practices in CFR 1910 Subpart S, specifically in 1910.301 to 1910.399. The OSHA regulations are written in general terms and don’t give specific rules or procedures on how one meets those requirements. OSHA refers to NFPA 70E as an acceptable national consensus standard to be used to meet the OSHA regulations. NFPA 70E electrical standard was developed to address the OSHA safety requirements and covers how to develop and implement an electrical safety program. OSHA uses NFPA 70E as a guide for enforcing their electrical safety rules when conducting compliance inspections.

The NFPA 70E standard has undergone many revisions over the years in an effort to keep up with changing technologies, practices, and the safety needs of employers and employees. The most recent changes (2012 revision) were made to make the standard easier to use and more aligned with the National Electric Code.

The standard consists of three main chapters and 16 informational annexes. Chapter 1, Safety-Related Work Practices, deals with electrical safety requirements in the workplace. Chapter 2, Safety-Related Maintenance requirements, deals with safety requirements as they relate to maintenance activities on electrical equipment and installations. Chapter 3, Safety Requirements for Special Equipment, is a supplement to chapter 1 and deals with safety requirements for special equipment such as battery rooms, power electronic equipment, lasers, R&D laboratories, etc. The 16 informational annexes in the standard give informational support to the standard and its users.

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