During the June 2008 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) World Safety Conference and Exposition, the final content of the 70E standard began to take shape. Until then, nothing was firm because the NFPA Standards Council has the final say on 70E, as it does on any NFPA-derived documents. This structure is in place to administer the rules and regulations and to act as an appeals body for any disagreements to the codes and standards.
There were five Notices of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM) that were subject to a vote. One of those NITMAM’s concerned the wording of the scope of the 70E, one was in opposition to a new labeling requirement, and three concerned battery-related issues. Two of the NITMAM actions received positive votes to proceed forward for technical committee vote, which left 70E pretty much completed as written. However, as in the case of last cycle’s 70E (2004), Tentative Interim Amendments (TIA) could be added to correct real or perceived deficiencies that might arise as the document is subjected to wider scrutiny.
A TIA is used to introduce changes that affect safety or correct obvious errors. With the 578 proposals that were submitted this cycle and the 800 comments that had to be addressed, consolidating the changes was a huge task for the NFPA.
A proven track record
The 70E hasn’t always been the standard it is today, nor has it always been considered a must-have safety document. In 1976, OSHA asked the NFPA to develop a standard that OSHA could use in developing the Electrical Safe Work Practices regulation, Subpart S. The NFPA formed a consensus committee made up of representatives from a broad cross-section of industry, including IBEW, IEEE, NECA, aluminum, petrochemical, manufacturing, utilities and testing companies. The first 70E was published in 1979 and NFPA has published revised editions about every three years.
A big change in the 2000 edition caused people to take notice of 70E. The arc flash tables, which were included as 130.7(C)(9)(a), 130.7(C)(10) and 130.7(C)(11) provided, for the first time, a practical way for electrical workers to choose what OSHA terms “appropriate electrical protective equipment” [29 CFR 1910.335(a)(1)]. This eliminated much of the confusion (and foot-dragging) so prevalent when people try to comply with federal regulations, but lack solid guidance. Some people love the arc flash tables, some hate them, but since 1999, there hasn’t been one incident reported to the 70E Committee in which a worker who followed the tables was seriously injured. Personally, I think that’s a pretty good track record.
The 2002 edition of the National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, contained another significant clause. Article 110.16, which was new to the NEC, required labeling on equipment to warn qualified workers about the potential hazard of arc flash and shock. This forced the electrical contractors and their clientele to attach the labels and start implementing arc flash protection programs.
It’s pretty difficult to ignore hazards when you’re obliged to paste warning labels on equipment being installed. Suddenly, plant-floor workers were asking questions about arc flash.
Made more consistent and accessible
So, what kind of changes are found in the latest revision? For one thing, a great deal of effort went into making 70E more consistent, more understandable and simpler to use. As a member of two task groups, (Words and Phrases Task Group and the Tables Task Group), I can honestly say that the task groups spent many hours conferring after the official meeting adjourned, often until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Because OSHA is using 70E as a guide for what people should be wearing and doing in the workplace (they only can enforce federal law, not a standard) and because courts have ruled that 70E is “standard industry practice,” what 70E actually says has become increasingly important. Some of the most significant changes follow.
No more jargon: This includes elimination of slang words and phrases, such as “hot,” “live” and “working on or near.” Examples of how “live” has been changed to “energized” include:
live energized electrical conductors or circuit parts…
- The title of Article 130 has been changed:
Working On or Near Live Parts Work Involving Electrical Hazards
To make the standard more specific, which should improve clarity and make it more precise, “working on or near” will be dropped and the limits of approach will be used. There are three examples below:
working on or near within the Limited Approach Boundary ….”
working on or near within the Flash Protection Boundary ….”
- “110.8(A) General - Safety-related work practices shall be used to safeguard employees from injury while they are
working on or near exposed to electrical hazards from electrical conductors or circuit parts that ….”
This recommended wording is much clearer and leaves little doubt about the standard’s intent. The specific hazard of concern is identified or, like in the third example, all hazards are indicated. These wording changes should eliminate ambiguity and make the intent clear to the worker. The 70E Committee, TCC and the NFPA have a common goal: to make 70E a usable safety standard, one that is as clear and concise as humanly possible. This edition of 70E moves us closer to that goal.
Article 110.6(A) added new training requirements: “Employees shall be trained to select an appropriate voltage-detector and shall demonstrate how to use a device to verify the absence of voltage, including interpreting indications provided by the device. The training shall include information that enables the employee to understand all limitations of each specific voltage-detector that might be used.”