What are current best practices for keeping workers safe?

Thomas Wilk says strong communication can reduce electrical safety risk.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

The articles that comprise this month’s cover story package on electrical safety present two different takes on the same core issue: Given the challenges associated with maintaining equipment health and reliability, what are current best practices when it comes to keeping workers safe?

Preparing these articles brought back memories of my time as an English and composition teacher – and especially of the writing classes targeted toward science and engineering students on the verge of entering the workforce. The purpose of these classes was for students to gain some experience wading through dense technical documents in their areas of professional focus, interpreting the material and then recording and sharing their thoughts. It was clear from day one which students found this prospect exciting, and which ones dreaded it. (Perhaps you see yourself in one of these two camps even now.)

Our first cover story takes up a similar challenge by explaining key changes to the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, the invaluable yet often densely worded Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The story’s authors, Sheila Kennedy and Dee Jones, P.E., note subtle shifts in language that are game-changers on the policy and implementation level. Among these are the replacement of the phrase “hazard analysis” with “risk assessment” throughout the standard.

“The new standard’s risk assessment process broadens the scope of employees who must receive electrical safety education,” they write. “All employees who are exposed to electrical hazards where the risk has not been reduced to a safe level (with no exposed energized conductors or parts of equipment and the equipment is essentially stagnant) require risk and avoidance training, according to the new standard, from electricians and operators to mechanics, janitors, office workers, or anyone who may plug into an electrical outlet.”

That’s a lot of people with a wide range of professional experience who all need to understand on their own terms how NFPA 70E 2015 applies to them and to their on-the-job responsibilities. Companies that seek compliance with the latest standard face a new and significant communications challenge.

Our second cover story picks up on this theme, reviewing the operational, financial, and safety risks of uncontrolled growth of your plant’s electrical infrastructure. Authors Dave Sirmans, CMRP, and TJ Garten demonstrate how many of these risks stem from on-the-job communication gaps. The story builds a strong connection between inadequate planning, tracking, and scheduling documentation and increased electrical safety risks.

The good news is that these risks are often avoidable, as long as safety and reliability stakeholders are ready and willing to keep all lines of communication open.