NFPA 70E 2015: What's changed and what you need to know

Significant changes to NFPA 70E since 2012 compel updated electrical safety training.

By Sheila Kennedy, Plant Services Contributing Editor, and Dee Jones, P.E., AVO Engineering Division Manager

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NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® is an indispensable work in progress. For more than 35 years, NFPA 70E has delivered on its mission to create safer workplaces through improved electrical safety practices, but the standard continues to evolve.

Approximately every three years, NFPA 70E is updated to incorporate the latest in electrical safety research, risk assessments, work practices, design considerations, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by shock, arc flash, and arc blast. This voluntary how-to guide to assist in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance can play an invaluable role in helping plants mitigate their electrical hazards, protect workers, promote safety requirements, and keep their facilities up and running.

Much is learned every year. When the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) initiated the voluntary standard at OSHA’s request in 1979, the first edition addressed only electrical installation requirements related to electrical safety. It wasn’t until the 1995 edition that arc flash hazards were addressed, and numerous workplace safety requirements have since been added.

As the safety standard evolves, so must the companies and electrical workers who use it. The 10th and latest release, NFPA 70E 2015, contains some significant differences from its 2012 predecessor. It is essential to understand these changes and why they matter in order to remain compliant with OSHA, avoid risking lives, reduce liability, and prevent unexpected and costly downtime.

Summary of NFPA 70E 2015 changes

The new edition strives to ensure a safer workplace and clarifies the responsibilities of employees and employers by making the following major changes, in addition to extensive minor adjustments:

  • “Risk assessment” replaces the phrase “hazard analysis” throughout the standard as part of an effort to make users more aware of the devastating risk of failure and loss caused by shock, arc flash, and arc blast hazards. Specifically, the “risk assessment process” now is defined as including identification of shock, arc flash, and arc blast hazards; estimation of the potential severity of injury or damage to health; estimation of the likelihood of injury occurrence or damage to health; and determination of whether protective measures and PPE are required.
  • Maintenance status is now an integral part of the risk assessment.
  • The electrical safety program must now include maintenance on electrical equipment as a primary element.
  • Clarification was made that a comprehensive risk assessment, not just an incident energy analysis, is required (see sidebar on best practices for conducting a risk assessment and incident energy analysis).
  • The responsibility for proper installation and maintenance is assigned to the equipment owner or the owner’s designated representative.
  • The short-circuit current and clearing time of the over-current protective device must be known for an incident energy analysis.
  • Hazard/risk category (HRC) tables have been replaced with new hazard identification tables and PPE category tables. All references to HRC have been replaced with the term “arc flash PPE category.” This will force a culture change because HRC has become institutionalized terminology in the industry.
  • To use the PPE category tables, the short-circuit current and clearing time of the over-current protective device must be known.
  • HRC 0, the standard PPE worn every day for normal construction activities, has been eliminated; now, the qualified person must make a risk assessment based upon normal operation of equipment that meets all of the following criteria:
  • The equipment is properly installed
  • The equipment is properly maintained
  • All equipment doors are closed and secured
  • All equipment covers are in place and secured
  • There is no evidence of impending failure
  • Companies can develop their own PPE numbering system.
  • Warning label content was modified to include:
  • Incident energy at a corresponding distance or PPE category selected using 70E tables, but not both
  • Site-specific level of PPE
  • Labels must be updated when a hazard risk assessment review renders the label to be inaccurate
  • It’s clarified that the electrical equipment owner is now responsible for the documentation, installation, and maintenance of field-installed labels.
  • The requirements for construction and maintenance work were separated from outdoor work to enhance usability.
  • The table update for restricted-approach boundary dimensions added clarity.
  • A new requirement covers risk assessment associated with battery work.
  • The prohibited-approach shock boundary was eliminated.

Why do these changes matter?

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