NFPA 70E: Why comply?

The newly released NFPA 70E has a whole new look and content. It covers protection for electrical workers from hazards such as shock, arc blasts and explosions initiated by electricity, outside conductors and more. It’s a must-read for all electrical workers and their employers.

By Sheila Kennedy

“NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, 2004 Edition” is one of many industry consensus standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA, an international nonprofit organization, develops voluntary codes and standards using an open consensus process. 
  The newly released 2004 edition has a revamped title, look and content. It covers protection for electrical workers from hazards such as shock, arc blasts and explosions initiated by electricity, outside conductors and more. It’s a must-read for all electrical workers and their employers.

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Why is NFPA 70E important to employers? NFPA 70E provides specific information to help companies prevent or minimize exposure to all widely recognized electrical hazards. To underscore its importance, the safety-related work practices chapter has been moved to chapter one in the 2004 edition.

Safety practices, such as those recommended by NFPA 70E, help minimize employees’ risk of burns, blindness, electrocution, electric shock and associated falls. A decrease in employee injury and death rates can reduce workers’ compensation costs and help companies avoid noncompliance penalties. 

How big of a concern is electrical safety? According to an article by NFPA’s Senior Electrical Specialist Kenneth Mastrullo, “Statistics show that electrical contact results in 4,000 non-disabling and 3,600 disabling injuries annually in the United States, not to mention one death in the workplace every day.” Historically, electrocution has been the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths in America, Mastrullo says. He also points out that two other common electrical hazards – arc flash and arc blast – are not included in these statistics, nor are near-miss incidents.

What is the connection between NFPA 70E and OSHA? NFPA 70E was originally developed at OSHA’s request to address electrical hazards in the workplace. OSHA bases its electrical safety requirements on the comprehensive information in NFPA 70E. Even though OSHA does not mandate compliance with NFPA 70E itself, it considers NFPA 70E to be an effective how-to manual for OSHA regulation compliance.

How does NFPA 70E complement OSHA regulations? OSHA requires the use of protective equipment when working where potential electrical hazards exist, although the agency does not specify how to select personal protective equipment. OSHA requires the employer to assess workplace hazards and the need for personal protective equipment, but it does not specify how to conduct hazard assessments. 

In lieu of detailed specifications, OSHA recognizes, and in some cases refers to, industry consensus standards such as NFPA 70E as a tool for assisting with regulatory compliance. NFPA 70E provides practical solutions to satisfy the requirements of OSHA subpart S for general industry and subpart K for construction. It identifies the hazards and describes measures that can be taken to prevent electrical injuries. 

Can you avoid OSHA citations by complying with NFPA 70E? Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, otherwise known as the general duty clause, requires an employer to furnish “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” The clause enables OSHA to issue citations when unsafe conditions are identified for which a regulation does not exist. Industry consensus standards such as NFPA 70E may serve as evidence that a hazard is recognized and that there is a feasible means of correcting the hazard. 
 
Consensus standards can also be used by employers as guides for making hazard assessments and personal protective equipment selections required by the standard. In OSHA enforcement actions, the use of industry consensus standards can serve as evidence of whether an employer acted reasonably.

What about OSHA-approved state plans? John Klinger, vice president of technology for Lewellyn Technology Inc., says, “Some OSHA state plans are more restrictive than federal OSHA and as such, may have adopted or incorporated 70E. This is addressed on a state-by-state basis and should be evaluated by each employer location.” Lewellyn Technology offers maintenance training on topics such as NEC, NFPA 70E and electrical safe work practices.

Where can I find the standard? You can buy it from NFPA’s Web site, which also offers a companion handbook written by the developers of NFPA 70E. The handbook provides strategies, commentary, practical examples, illustrations and photos that clarify the rules. 

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at Sheila@addcomm.com.

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