Every three years, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) updates NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. The standard's intent is to reduce exposure to the hazards of shock, arc flash, and arc blast while individuals are working on or near exposed electrical conductors or circuit parts that are or can become energized. However, a review of the proposed changes for the 2018 release finds that the NFPA standard now is aiming even higher in its focus on hazard elimination.
With plant operations seeing greater overall energy use, higher system voltages, and higher available fault current, the risk of exposure to shock and arc flash hazards is elevated. Plant managers must be diligent when addressing such hazards, or they could face dire consequences.
Not only can arc flash incidents cause severe injury or death, but also they can disrupt business, damage equipment, lead to legal liability, increase insurance premiums, damage a company's reputation, and result in regulatory fines.
For example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited a New York paperboard mill for more than 60 violations, including not providing employees with the required training or personal protective equipment (PPE) to work on electrical systems with up to 2,300 volts. The company faces $357,445 in proposed penalties. In another example, a logistic company’s Wisconsin facility was fined $109,211 in part for exposing workers to live electrical parts and blocking electrical service panels.
Failure to properly protect workers from potential shock and arc flash hazards can exact costs no plant wants to pay. The key to avoiding these begins with understanding the latest changes and updates to NFPA 70E along with what your plant needs to do to comply with them.
Let's consider in greater detail some of the proposed changes to NFPA 70E and best practices for creating a safe work environment at your plant.
Plan for job safety
With previous versions of NFPA 70E, employers were responsible not only for holding job briefings that communicated known hazards to contract employees but also for documenting this meeting. The latest version of the standard takes the job briefing process a step further and requires the employee in charge to be more proactive with job safety planning.
This change to the job preparation process requires that a documented plan be completed by a qualified person. Per NFPA 70E, a qualified person is someone who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and who has received safety training to identify hazards and reduce associated risk.
The planning document must include a broad description of the job as well as a list of individual tasks or work procedures to be performed. It should identify electrical hazards, energy source controls, and special precautions. As part of this planning process, risk assessments must be performed for tasks involving shock or arc flash hazards.
Properly assess and communicate risks
Risk assessments as part of job safety planning is new to NFPA 70E in 2018, but it is not a new concept. Because OSHA has always made it the employer’s responsibility to identify and share on-the-job risks and hazards with employees, NFPA 70E already requires that a risk assessment be performed prior to allowing workers to perform tasks on or near energized equipment.
For both shock and arc flash risk assessments, NFPA 70E requirements include:
- Identifying the hazards
- Estimating the likelihood of occurrence of injury or damage to health and the potential severity of injury or damage to health
- Determining whether additional protective measures, including the use of PPE, are required
Once an arc flash risk assessment has been completed, it’s up to the employer to share the results with workers so that they can use the information to properly protect themselves on the job.