What are electrical safety standards and who enforces them?

There are many different electrical safety standards that need to be followed in the workplace to protect the integrity of the building as well as make sure employees stay safe while on the job. That includes preventing electrical shocks, electrical fires, and other electrical hazard related issues. Consensus standards, such as electrical safety standards, are often developed by safety companies, governmental agencies, or other ANSI accredited businesses that work to find the best practice methods in particular situations.

In terms of electrical regulations, OSHA often makes a point to incorporate by reference consensus standards created by organizations such as the NFPA who have been appropriately accredited by ANSI. Those incorporated standards then become regulations which are enforced by government agencies, such as OSHA. All of which can come with serious penalties if not followed.

With that being said, standards are simply best practice recommendations, and there is no enforcement measures possible. Following standards for electrical safety, however, is still in the best interests for all companies. In fact, doing so can still save a business from being cited by OSHA under the general duty clause for not providing employees with the safest environment possible.

OSHA and NFPA Logos

OSHA Electrical Safety Regulations

The best-known name in workplace safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA regulates many different aspects of workplace safety, including basic electrical safety. Some of their most important electrical standards include the following within the General Industry section:

OSHA also has specific guidelines for working on electrical systems while at sea. The electrical standards pertaining to the Maritime Industry include:

 OSHA has also approved of 28 state plans for electrical safety. The stipulation here is that the state plans must have both standards and enforcement plans that are as effective as OSHA’s already existing regulations. With that being said, the state plans are allowed to be stricter regarding electrical safety, but they cannot be more lenient than OSHA.

NFPA Electrical Safety Standards

The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, is another group that provides safety standards focused on electricity. The NFPA’s most famous set of standards is NFPA 70 and is also known as the ‘National Electrical Code’ or NEC. There are nine chapters included in the NEC that cover the following subjects:

  1. 1.     The chapter titled General covers the definitions and rules for electrical installation.
  2. 2.     The chapter titled Wiring and Protection defines the necessary steps and materials for protecting wires against damage done by dust, moisture, and heat.
  3. 3.     The chapter titled Wiring Methods and Materials includes material needs such as different cables, wiring devices, etc.
  4. 4.     The chapter titled Equipment for General Use relays information about items such as extension cords, heaters, switches, and other equipment.
  5. 5.     The chapter titled Special Occupancies covers unique environments that hold a higher risk for electricians and other occupants.
  6. 6.     The chapter titled Special Equipment refers to visual tools such as signage, machinery, circuit breakers, and multiple other items.
  7. 7.     The chapter titled Special Conditions directly refers to the use of alarm and emergency systems, as well as a handful of other safety systems needed to protect employees and the building.
  8. 8.     The chapter titled Communications Systems covers any additional requirements for the systems described in chapter 7.
  9. 9.     The last section titled Tables and Annexes have a variety of examples, relevant standards, and calculations to use for reference.

However, many states have yet to adopt the most recent version made in 2020, as the NEC is updated around every three years. There are even states that are still stuck using the 2008 edition.

The other standard put out by this organization that is well known is NFPA 70E. As a much more narrowed approach in terms of standards, NFPA 70E sets forth safety requirements that offer a great balance between workplace safety and productivity. The standard itself covers shock protection boundaries, electrical equipment, arc flash safety, arc flash hazards, common electrical hazads, lockout-tagout systems, and other electrical hazards. Now, ANSI/NFPA 70E is not federal law but rather works as a baseline for local laws in each state.

Regardless, while the NFPA doesn’t have any legal enforcement power, they are among the most respected agencies in the country and are voluntarily followed by millions of companies. If a company doesn’t follow the standards, they can’t claim to be NFPA compliant.

Keeping Up with Changing Standards

OSHA, NFPA, and other groups are constantly working on finding newer and better ways to work with electrical systems that will keep everyone safe. As new and improved best practices are developed, the standards released by these groups are updated. All companies are responsible for keeping up with the latest changes and safe work practices to ensure everyone is protected.





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