By Donovan Baker, Honeywell Safety Products
With an economy that is beginning to pick up steam, more companies are now in a position to spend more than in the last few years. A good number of those organizations are choosing to address electrical safety which seems to be very high on OSHA’s radar, especially considering the recent updates to OSHA’s Subpart V. Many of those companies are shocked to discover that they are non-compliant by today’s standards and many are caught off-guard when the lack of electrical compliance is identified. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the companies operating today in the US have an electrical safety program that satisfies the requirements set forth by law.
The remaining 60% are often unaware of changes in the standard, hoped it would just “go away”, or keep putting other priorities in ahead which causes major trouble down the road. Often when discussing electrical safety with an EHS (Environment, Health & Safety) professional or electrical worker, the belief a year ago was that electrical safety was a “box to check.” Several years ago, many of those companies bought arc flash personal protective equipment only to put them on a shelf, and consider their electrical safety compliance marked off the list. Now those same facilities are realizing that there is much more behind the standard that is required to stay compliant.
So let us start at the beginning. Is the NFPA 70E standard law? No. It is not. There are other standards for electrical safety and a company may choose to follow those. Keep in mind that OSHA requested the NFPA 70E standard from the National Electrical Code (NEC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as a guide for compliance. This means that if you were to inquire with OSHA about how your facility could become, or stay, compliant where electrical safety is concerned, they would refer you to the NFPA 70E standard. OSHA requires that a company “must keep a workplace free from recognized hazards” under the General Duty Clause using Recognized Standards. NFPA 70E is a Recognized Standard.
In order to have a compliant Electrical Safety Program, one must do three things: (1) Have all electrical hazards labeled. (2) Provide adequate electrical PPE (personal protective equipment) for the hazards encountered. (3) Provide electrical training for all affected workers.
The best way to ensure that workers are properly protected is by having an arc flash analysis of the facility completed. The results give the facility the proper levels of PPE that are required for each task. This eliminates any uncertainty and confirms that workers will not be under protected. Once the arc flash survey is completed, each electrical panel would then be properly labeled spelling out the PPE required for each task making it very easy for any electrical workers in the site to stay compliant.
Electrical workers today have more options than ever to ensure their comfort and safety. When the standard was in infancy, most companies tried to satisfy the safety requirements first, and then pay some attention to comfort. Today, comfort is a very high priority and manufacturers of arc rated suits and shields have made major strides in making the overall electrical PPE system much more comfortable for the electrical worker.
Lastly, we will focus on training. The requirement for training is spelled out in the 2012 NFPA 70E standard. It states that all qualified workers, working on 50 volts or greater that use voltage measuring equipment, must get certified every three years. This is to keep each electrical worker up to date on changing standards and make sure that the requirement for compliance is understood.
Once you have these three key elements in place, now you have an electrical safety program that should meet the demands of a modern workplace.