What Every Owner and Contractor Should Know About NFPA70E
Manager of Operations/Chief Engineer
Premier Power Maintenance
Keeping up with the wide variety of workplace safety regulations can seem like a full-time job, and it’s not unusual for building owners and contractors to view many of those rules and guidelines as little more than nuisances that get in the way of progress and profits. Often, that kind of attitude results from a misunderstanding of the regulations or the importance of their intent.
One of today’s most misunderstood sets of standards is NFPA 70E, which was created by the National Fire Protection Association in an effort to explain practical steps for implementing OSHA regulations regarding electrical safety. Many people believe that NFPA 70E is only about protection from arc flash – and there’s no question that the standard explores that issue in depth – but it’s actually far more comprehensive guidance to electrical safety in the workplace.
NFPA 70E covers every practical aspect of workplace safety related to working with electricity. In addition to outlining standards and documentation for specific procedures and the correct types of personal protective equipment (PPE) for each, it spells out the responsibilities of both owners and contractors, and how they should interact regarding potential hazards on a jobsite.
While OSHA’s regulations regarding working with electricity were well-intended, they tended to be so vague that workers and supervisors weren’t entirely sure of what was expected. NFPA developed the document to bring clarity to what is and isn’t safe. Although it may not be an official government document, and even though it hasn’t receive a formal blessing from government regulators, reports from the field suggest that OSHA is citing NFPA 70E’s requirements when it investigates incidents and injuries.
That doesn’t come as a big surprise, because the guidance outlined in NFPA 70E is sound and attainable. Any owner or contractor that places a high importance on safety should use it as the basis for their own requirements and practices. That’s why even the mining industry, which is exempt from OSHA compliance, has accepted NFPA 70E as a standard.
Some assume that NFPA 70E’s guidance applies only to large projects or applications involving very high voltage or amperage. The reality is that the standards are every bit as applicable to smaller jobs, such as replacing a breaker in a 100-amp residential panel. (In that situation, for example, the contractor will need flame-retardant clothing, low-voltage gloves, ear plugs, and a hardhat with a face shield or safety glasses.)
That doesn’t mean the document will complicate life for smaller contractors (or owners). In reality, NPFA 70E simplifies things, because it spells out exactly what is needed to protect workers and stay in compliance with worker-safety rules. When an incident occurs, having followed the procedures outlined in the document may protect the contractor from bigger problems with safety regulators and litigation.
Complying with the standards in NFPA 70E is not only the responsibility of contractors who work on electrical equipment. Owners are expected to be able to identify and properly label hazards. If the contractor is on the jobsite and has to refer to his NFPA guide to determine how to handle a particular hazard, it’s a sign that the owner isn’t living up to expectations. The owner should be able to tell the contractor what’s involved – everything from the voltage level to the arc flash category and boundary – and that information should be regularly updated. Where will the owner find all that information? Where else, but in NFPA 70E, arranged in tables to make it easier.
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges related to NFPA 70E is that some owners and contractors don’t fully understand the requirements for communication with each other. That’s important, because not only will clear communication bring both sides into compliance, but it will also protect the contractor’s workers while minimize the owner’s potential liability. In addition to being a good basis for safety policies, it’s a risk management approach for both.
If you’re not already familiar with NFPA 70E, it’s well worth your time to obtain and review the standards. You’ll probably be amazed at the depth of information that’s included. In addition, it offers helpful guides and tools, such as flow charts for how to handle work permits, sample checklists for safety briefings, and procedures for evaluating hazard lists.
Following the standards in NFPA 70E is more than just a compliance issue. It’s also a sound business decision built upon proven practices. After all, when you protect your workers, you also protect your investment in facilities, equipment, or your business.
About Premier Power Maintenance
Premier Power Maintenance performs maintenance testing and repair of electrical equipment, as well as arc flash studies and coordination studies for companies in a variety of industries.