Proactivity toward prevention lowers safety risks. Any and all preventive measures will drastically lower the probability of a hazardous scenario from happening. (Lewellyn Technology photo)

Workplace Safety Saves Lives and Money. Is Your Facility Prepared?

Workplace safety and operational performance are critical factors to protect all of your assets: your employees, facilities, and financial interests.

OSHA requires employers to protect employees from electrical hazards, including arc flash. Yet OSHA does not specifically explain how to comply with these regulations. NFPA 70E is the bridge between OSHA regulations and compliance. It is the consensus standard for electrical safety in the workplace, referred to by OSHA on numerous occasions. NFPA 70E 2018 states that safe work practices need to be used to protect employees from injuries while they are exposed to electrical hazards.

The total cost of safety cannot be underestimated. Those direct costs add up rather quickly. There area costs such as workers’ compensation, medical and legal expenses, and indirect safety costs such as training, accident investigation, implementation of corrective measures, and lost productivity. Not only does an electrically induced injury occur within seconds, causing severe and sometimes lethal injuries; it subsequently results in unscheduled interruption, expensive repairs to equipment and facilities, and regulatory fines. It is also known that workplaces with safety concerns tend to have lower employee morale and productivity.

As the electrical safety industry evolves to being technology-driven, workplace safety programs should adapt, as well. Equipment and safety devices are constantly improving. Industry 4.0 is focusing on the transition to smart factories, where machines, devices, sensors, and people will interact via the Internet of Things (IoT), predicting failures and triggering maintenance processes autonomously. Job automation and the number of computers and robots in the workplace will only continue to increase.

How do you prepare for these workplace safety challenges? There are five critical areas that must be addressed in order to drive a comprehensive and effective safety approach within your facilities. In this article, we will focus in on the safety of employees who are exposed to electrical hazards arising from the

1. Electrical Safety Program
First and foremost, the employer is required to establish a company-wide, all-encompassing safety program. NFPA 70E Section 110.1 requires an Electrical Safety Program, a written document that directs activity appropriate for the risk associated with electrical hazards. Its scope includes safety principles, policies, procedures, controls, awareness of hazards, risk assessments, job safety plans/job briefings, audits, incident investigation, and training, among others.

The Electrical Safety Program's key objective is to provide overall guidance. In order for the Electrical Safety Program to be effective, it must be properly communicated to, and understood by, everyone in the organization.

2. Hazard Assessment
Energy sources, including electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, and others, can be hazardous to workers. NFPA 70E Section 130.2 requires that all electrical equipment operating at voltages greater than 50 volts be put into an electrically safe working condition (disconnected from energized parts, locked/tagged, tested for absence of voltage, and grounded if necessary) before a worker performs any sort of work on the equipment. Organizations need to establish an effective lockout/tagout program to address this requirement.

These standards are general industry standards focused on addressing the practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment. When an electrically safe working condition cannot be established, electrically safe work practices must be used before any worker is exposed to hazards. Section 130.5 requires an arc flash assessment to be performed to determine the risks, the safe work practices required, the arc flash boundary, the incident energy exposure level at the working distance, and additional protective measures required, including the use of PPE. In order to perform under these circumstances, an energized electrical work permit is required if the work is performed within the restricted approach boundary.

There are various approaches on how to accomplish an arc flash assessment, which is why there can be confusion around the best practice and all of the requirements. Along with the numerous standards, there are various methods used to calculate and qualify an arc flash hazard. The scope of the assessment is another aspect to take into account. High-level assessments ensure all points are thoroughly assessed, whereas a more "cost-effective" choice would determine fewer hazards and end up costing more in the long run.

There are also misconceptions, including one that equipment supplied from a panel rated at 1.2 cal/cm2 (hazard category 0) will also be rated the same. There are scenarios where this may not be the case. The lower the fault current, the longer it will take a fuse or circuit breaker to open. If there are long cable runs, transformers, or other overcurrent protective devices, the incident energy and hazard risks can increase at panels and equipment downstream.

According to NFPA 70E 130.5 (H) and NEC 110.16, all switchboards, panelboards, industrial control panels, meter socket enclosures, motor control centers, and disconnect switches or circuit breakers that may be examined, adjusted, or maintained while energized must be identified and marked prominently with a label to warn qualified workers of potential electrical shock and arc flash hazards.

Incident energy analysis needs to be reviewed whenever changes occur in the electrical distribution system that could affect the analysis results, or every five years, whichever occurs first.

3. Hazard Prevention
Proactivity toward prevention lowers safety risks. Any and all preventive measures will drastically lower the probability of a hazardous scenario from happening. Preventive maintenance, such as infrared thermography, reduces the risk of equipment failure, job safety planning/job briefings, and safety audits, among others.

4. Hazard Mitigation
The hierarchy of control methods state that after any risks have been identified, risk mitigation needs to be effectively implemented, such as the following:

  • Elimination, substitution, and engineering controls are the most effective methods. They are usually applied at the source and are less likely to be affected by human error, compared to awareness, administrative controls, and PPE.
  • The potential for human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, the work environment, and equipment must be considered during the implementation of mitigation measures.

5. Electrical Safety Training
Training workers (employees and contractors) who are exposed to hazards is critical to workplace safety, particularly when the hazard risk is not eliminated or reduced to a safe level. Workers need to be able to identify and understand the specific hazards associated with their respective job assignments. Electrical safety, lockout/tagout, and emergency response in a classroom setting, on the job, or a combination of the two are required within the scope of training, according to the NFPA 70E standard.

A worker will be considered a qualified person once he/she is qualified to perform the job safely and is trained and knowledgeable about the equipment and work method; is able to identify the associated electrical hazards; and is familiar with the proper use of the precautionary procedures, techniques, tools, and PPE required to avoid them. Only qualified persons should be permitted to work exposed to electrical hazards that have not been put into an electrically safe working condition. Unqualified workers also need to be familiar with any electrical safety-related practices necessary for their workplace safety. The employer is responsible for determining, at least on an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the required safety-related work practices and for documenting that each employee has received the proper training, including names, training content, and training dates. The employer also has shared responsibility for contractors.

Creating a safe workplace is an ongoing process. Workplace safety is a key enabler of business continuity, operational performance, and productivity. It is also a critical factor in protecting your most important assets: your employees, facilities, and financial interests. Addressing these five key areas effectively will help you achieve a best-in-class safe, healthy, and productive workplace.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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