Using NFPA 70E to Guide Your Electrical Safety Program

Contributed by Safety Management Group

It’s a given that electrical safety is a key part of workplace safety. By following what’s outlined in NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, you’ll protect your workers and stay on OSHA’s good side where electrical safety is concerned.

What is the NFPA 70E standard?

The NFPA 70E standard focuses on the safety of workers exposed to electrical hazards including electric shock, arc flash, and arc blast. OSHA’s general duty clause calls upon employers to furnish a place of employment free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm, and what’s outlined in NFPA 70E addresses those issues as they relate to electricity.

The standard itself is divided into four chapters. The first covers definitions, training requirements, elements of a safety program, lockout/tagout procedures, energized work permit procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, and other safety precautions. The second chapter covers safety-related maintenance requirements, the third addresses safety-related installation and work practices and procedures for special equipment, and the final chapter summarizes the National Electrical Code.

Creating an electrical safety program

An electrical safety program is an important part of your overall company safety program, and NFPA 70E’s policies and procedures are already written and available for use. Building upon those standards, your safety program should act as a guideline for how to work safely around electrical parts and equipment. Your program should include:

Awareness and self-discipline. Your program must provide awareness of potential electrical hazards, along with the required self-discipline so that an employee can review the program and know what is required before proceeding with their work, creating accountability.

Program principles. The principles upon which your program is based need to be identified.

Program procedures. Your program should identify safe work procedures for working on or near areas where an electrical hazard exists.

Hazard/risk evaluation procedure. This defines the evaluation process workers can use prior to starting work on or near live parts.

Job briefing. The employee in charge should brief the employee who will perform the work before it begins. The briefing should include work procedures, hazards associated, any special precautions, and required PPE.

Establishing an electrically safe work condition

The overall goal behind an electrical safety program is to perform work on electrical parts and equipment only when they are in an electrically safe work condition. De-energizing equipment achieves this, and the best practice is to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures.

The first steps in this process are preparation and notification. The worker needs to identify what is being affected by this shutdown and notify any personnel who may be affected well. The next step is to actually shut down the energized parts/equipment. Whether this is accomplished by a switch, disconnect, or breaker, it must be done completely. Shutting down only a part of a system could result in problems. The person authorized to perform this work should apply both a lock and a tag to ensure that the equipment is not inadvertently re-energized.

The next step is to ensure that stored or residual energy has been controlled or dissipated. This energy could be stored in springs, elevated machine members, capacitors, or other objects. Once this has been achieved, the worker can verify that the system is shut down through the use of a voltage detector and proceed safely with the task at hand.

When equipment can’t be made electrically safe

In some cases, it is difficult or even impossible to de-energize systems. Life support equipment, ventilation equipment that controls a hazardous location, and emergency alarm systems are examples of situations in which a shutdown could create a bigger hazard. In these case, the NFPA 70E calls for an energized work permit.

Such a permit allows workers to document the description and location of work and justification of why the work is to be performed energized. It also requires a shock and flash hazard analysis. This permit must be signed by authorized personnel who agree that the system cannot be de-energized. The documentation creates a process for examining the work to be performed, discussing it with affected personnel, and determining the appropriate PPE before proceeding with the task.

PPE and other safety precautions

Before a system is shut down for testing or performing work, the worker must have the required PPE. The standard includes a table that addresses the PPE requirements depending on the task being performed and the voltage of the equipment/system. The PPE must always be in good condition, and this should be verified prior to performing work. It is also very important that workers wear no conductive articles, are alert, and that their work area is clear.

The importance of training

Training is always important for any workers who will be exposed to a hazard. Workers need to understand the requirements of the electrical safety program. They must be able to recognize the hazards of electricity, know the safety-related work practices and procedures for protection against those hazards, and be able to recognize potential hazards and injuries associated with the specific task. They must also be trained on the care, use, inspection, and testing of PPE. The required training content will depend on the type of work and the level of responsibility involved in a project or task.

Safety program rollout

If you follow the steps outlined about, the rollout of your electrical safety program should be smooth. Your employees will be properly trained and ready to work on their project and tasks safely. The hardest part of a new policy is getting buy-in from all involved parties. It may be necessary to tweak your program to better fit the needs of your facility and a particular project, but in time, the process will become second nature for everyone involved.

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