The Updated NFPA 70E Standard: Bridging the Gap Between Compliance and Electrical Safety

The Updated NFPA 70E Standard: Bridging the Gap Between Compliance and Electrical Safety

The NFPA 70E Technical Committee has published its 2024 revisions to the standard, prioritizing safety and adaptability over mere compliance

NFPA 70E, known as the “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of workers handling electrical systems. While still a voluntary standard issued by the National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 70E helps companies and employees comply with OSHA 1910 Subpart S and OSHA 1926 Subpart K. It establishes guidelines for safe work practices to proactively identify and mitigate risks associated with electrical hazards, such as shock, arc flash, and arc blast. The core objective of NFPA 70E is to provide a practical framework that ensures worker safety when dealing with electrical systems.

The NFPA 70E Technical Committee has now published its 2024 revisions to the standard to focus more on hazard identification, risk assessment, and aligning with the hierarchy of controls to ensure electrically safe work conditions. Although no specific or individual market or regulatory event spurred NFPA to draft this revision, industry experts note that these updates remind employees and employers of best practices in the face of potential complacency.

The theme of the 2024 revisions is proactive hazard control and mitigation. They underscore the responsibility of both the employer and employees to maintain safety. (For an example, see “Informative Annex O, Employee Safety-Related Design Concepts and Facility Owner Responsibilities.”) If violations are found (through inspection or incident reporting), OSHA may issue citations referencing the NFPA 70E standard. Additionally, the code states that it can be applied by other governmental entities that may have regulatory influence/control over electrically-related systems. It also notes that it can be used by insurance companies that may wish to inspect facilities for coverage or liability-related issues. (See section 90.4 Enforcement.) 

Updating NFPA 70E and Key Changes for Employers

Because the NFPA 70E 2024 updates prioritize safety and adaptability over mere compliance, these changes are expected to help reduce injuries, foster a strong safety culture, and align the standard with industry advancements. The updated standard stresses the need for employers to be explicit in their policies and procedures. This is especially necessary as safety compliance becomes a larger regulatory emphasis. Additionally, as younger generations enter the workforce, employers may need to adapt to the potential influence of changing employment patterns.

Below are the key changes to the 2024 revision for employers.

Documentation Updates: 

  • Employers must have an established, documented, and implemented plan for achieving an Electrically Safe Work Condition (ESWC). 
  • An emergency response plan is now mandatory within job safety planning. 
  • Employers must fully audit their electrical safety programs every three years to comply with the latest NFPA 70E updates. 
  • Updating the program must fill any gaps identified between the current documentation and the new standard. 

Work Practice Changes: 

  • Related safety practices may need updating in line with changes to the standard. 
  • Employers must assess all electrical PPE, tools, and equipment. Items must be repaired or replaced if their condition is not suitable. 
  • An internal or 3rd party audit of how the electrical safety program is applied in the field is required annually. 

Training & Retraining: 

  • All workers must be retrained on the updated 2024 NFPA 70E. 
  • New workers must receive the full 2024 NFPA 70E training. 
  • Training can be classroom, on-site, or a combination of both. 
  • After training, employers must assess worker competency to apply the knowledge correctly. 

Primarily, the updates prioritize enhanced safety by incorporating the latest research and insights on minimizing electrical hazards in the workplace. 

Implications for Workplace Safety

The 2024 update of NFPA 70E, the standard for electrical safety in the workplace, features important changes to key terms. These revisions make the standard easier to understand and apply correctly, ultimately improving workplace safety. 

  • "Electric Shock" Emphasis: The term "electric shock" now consistently comes before "shock." This makes it clear when the standard refers to the dangerous effects of electrical current on the body. However, in specific references to "hearing protection boundary" and "lung protection boundary," "shock" means a shock wave (like from an explosion), not an electrical shock. This significant terminological clarification prevents ambiguity. 
  • Ambiguous Terms such as Flexible "Protectors": Terms that have been replaced, updated or superseded. For example, The term "leather" has been removed from the description of "protectors" (gloves and mittens worn over rubber-insulating gloves). This change allows for newer, potentially more effective materials, keeping safety gear in line with technological advancements.
  • Article Scopes: Each article now includes a concise scope statement at the beginning. This gives a clear overview of the article's content, making it easier for readers to find the necessary safety information. For example, Article 110 focuses on establishing an electrically safe work condition, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive safety policy that prioritizes hazard elimination. 
  • Lockout/tagout: Check for current/voltage at every work point versus a single point to establish an electrically safe work condition. 

Clear and consistent language is crucial in safety standards. By refining terms and definitions, the NFPA 70E 2024 aims to reduce confusion and ensure everyone involved in electrical work understands the safety requirements, and has the power and responsibility to take safety-supportive action. 

Furthermore, the revisions directly contribute to reduced risk. Following the standard's guidelines minimizes the likelihood of serious electrical accidents or injuries. As technologies have evolved, the NFPA 70E updated now provides guidance on the safe adoption of new electrical systems and equipment.

Overall, the 2024 update emphasizes the following goals: 

  • Proactive Safety Focus: Emphasizing hazard elimination (for example, see Article 110, General Requirement for Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices) and outlining requirements for an electrically safe work condition promotes proactive safety practices. 
  • Emergency Preparedness: Incorporating emergency response planning aligns with the need for readiness in the face of electrical hazards. 
  • Personnel Qualifications: Clarifications of personnel qualifications highlight the vital role of expertise in reducing risks. 
  • Supply Source, Stored Energy Hazards: New notes address potential risks, improving the comprehensiveness of establishing a safe work environment. 
  • Safety Checks: Enhanced procedures for testing conductor parts emphasize thoroughness, aiming to minimize oversights. 
  • Evolving Understanding: Adjusted shock protection boundaries, arc flash assessment updates, labeling, and PPE reflect the latest comprehension of electrical hazards. 
  • Future Readiness: New protocols and the maintenance assessment annex focus on safety for future equipment and procedural needs. 

Applicability

The standard defines specific areas of application including: 

  • Wiring and protection systems and subsystems such as grounded connectors, branch-circuits and feeder circuits 
  • Overvoltage and over-current protection 
  • Other services and related issues such as attachment points and types, building clearances, and supporting structures 

It also defines what situations the standard does and does not apply to such as covering: 

  • Both public and private settings, encompassing edifices, constructions, mobile residences, RVs, and marine constructions. 
  • Grounds, parcels, car parks, fairgrounds, and industrial facilities. 
  • The setup of wiring and apparatuses that establish a connection with the electricity source. 
  • Facilities utilized by the electric service provider, like office spaces, storage facilities, vehicle storage, mechanical workshops, and leisure facilities, which are separate from the main parts of power generation stations, substations, or control hubs. 
  • Systems that provide electrical power to vessels and boats at docks and shipyards, including the surveillance of electric leakage. 
  • Systems designed for transferring electric power from vehicles to the electrical system of a building or for the two-way flow of electric current. 

And, for example, it does not apply to: 

  • Electrical setups within vessels, boats (excluding floating structures), trains, airplanes, or motor vehicles (excluding mobile homes and RVs) 
  • Electrical systems situated beneath the earth's surface in mining operations and on machinery used in surface mining that is self-propelled, along with its associated electrical trailing cables. 
  • Electrical infrastructures within railway systems dedicated to the creation, conversion, conveyance, storage, or distribution of energy solely for the propulsion of trains 
  • Telecom equipment setups that are strictly managed by telecommunications service providers
  • Electrical configurations strictly managed by an electric utility company, applicable to specific installations under the utility's direct control 

Conclusion

Electrical safety represents a joint commitment from both employers and employees. It transcends the notion of being solely an employer's duty; safeguarding employees against electrical hazards necessitates a synergistic approach from the workforce and the management. Employers are tasked with establishing an Electrical Safety Program (ESP) to which employees must adhere. This includes applying the ESP's guidelines, training for safe task execution, and utilizing the appropriate tools and safety gear. The essence of NFPA 70E extends beyond mere post-incident employer actions—it's about proactively averting injuries. While an employer's ESP lays the groundwork, an employee's engagement with their electrical safety practices plays a pivotal role in their protection. 

As usual, the complete 2024 NFPA 70E standard should always be consulted for the full and official changes. A limited free version is available, but requires account creation. Public input also drives future revisions. The deadline to submit ideas for the 2027 edition is June 4, 2024.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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