Working with and around live energy isn't for the faint of heart. In energized environments, workers are most likely to encounter arc-flash, shock, and arc-blast hazards. It's for this reason that the NFPA 70E standard was created. This live energy-focused standard strives to keep workers safe by reducing the risks involved with electrical systems and circuits. Any business that works with live energy are required to follow NFPA 70E.
What is NFPA 70E, Anyway?
The NFPA 70E standard was designed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for safety-related work practices regarding electrical energy. These requirements are designed to protect workers by reducing risks of major electrical hazards. The NFPA 70E standard stems from an OSHA request to build a standard that would help employers avoid workplace injuries and fatalities due to electricity-related accidents and helps businesses comply with OSHA standards 1910 and 1926.
NFPA 70E Vs. NEC
If you're not an electrician or electrical engineer, the various agencies in charge of different standards can be confusing. The NFPA 70E standard is a cousin of the National Electrical Code (NEC). The NEC is the standard for design of electrical systems, but not how to complete the work; the NFPA 70E instructs safe work practices for electrical construction and maintenance, but not how to design electrical systems.
Since the NFPA 70E covers electrical safety in the workplace, it applies to every business you can think of: grocery stores, universities, cafes, libraries, etc. Despite the fact that this standard applies to countless types of industry, NFPA 70E is most often enforced in manufacturing plants, factories, warehouses, and worksites - places where electrical construction and maintenance consistently happens.
There are some big differences between the NFPA 70E and NEC when it comes to enforcing these standards. The NEC is for regulatory use; it is enforced by electrical inspectors. Since the NFPA 70E is not regulatory, customers/site managers are responsible for enforcing the NFPA 70E safety practices on electrical contractors.
The scope of NFPA 70E is narrow in that its focus is solely on three kinds of hazards:
These dangers are the entire purpose for NFPA 70E. Other worksite-related hazards (ladder best practices, scaffolding, hazardous material, etc.) fall under the umbrella of OSHA construction safety regulations.
The Safety Strategy of NFPA 70E
To keep your facility free of electric energy-related accidents, NFPA 70E recommends the following practices:
- Shut power down. It's important to work in a de-energized environment, though this isn't always possible.
- Get proper permit. Have person in charge (manager, foreman, customer, property management company, etc.) sign an Energized Electrical Work Permit.
- Wear PPE. Personal protective equipment (PPE) helps protect from catastrophic injury in the case of fire, electrocution, or shock. Examples of PPEs are flash suits, face shields, or flame-resistant clothing.
Power Down. Seriously.
If you haven't yet implemented a Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) system into your facility, now's the time. LOTO systems help save workers from severe injuries and death. LOTO systems are simple: you use locks and tags to literally lock (when possible) power switches when maintenance is being performed. If switches cannot be locked, you place a tag over the on/off mechanism. Locks and tags inform other workers to leave the machine alone while repairs are being done.
Before you start working, double check equipment to make sure that machine isn't just turned off but completely disconnected from its source of power (pneumatics, electricity, etc.), and that there is no risk of the system releasing any stored energy.
Post Energized Electrical Work Permit
This work permit ensures that people in responsible positions (managers, customers, building owners, etc.) are educated and involved in the decision whether to accept the increased risk associated with working on energized electrical conductors or circuit parts. Working around energized power is dangerous; it's important to make sure everyone is aware of the conditions and the potential hazards involved. Posting these energized electrical work permits can lead to a decision to complete work de-energized.
Personal Protective Equipment Can Save Lives
The NFPA 70E standards require that PPE is worn to protect workers in the event of arc flash, shock, or other energized-environment hazards. When it comes to working with electricity, PPE needs to be arc-rated for maximum protection and designed to absorb shock safely.
PPE recommended by NFPA 70E
These standards recommend a vast array of PPE, all of which depends on the work you will be accomplishing. For a full list of PPE, consult the NFPA 70E Handbook. The following items are a good start to protecting workers around electrical energy.
- Arc-rated, non-melting or untreated natural-fiber clothing
- Rubber insulating gloves and leather protectors
- Class G or E hard hat (if necessary)
- Face shield
- Safety glasses
- Dielectric overshoes (if necessary)
The NFPA 70E is a vital tool for staying safe and protected from shock, arc-flash, and arc-blast accidents in energized environments. Whether performing maintenance or completing electrical construction, following these standards will ensure your workers stay safe, protected, and OSHA compliant.