The Key to Establishing Safety in the Workplace

By Dean Austin, Contributor

A safe installation of electrical systems begins with the most recent edition of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), which ensures the most up-to-date technology, equipment, and methods available are being used.

Safety in the workplace is multi-faceted. There are frequently different hazards encountered with each specific type of job or task. A safe working environment is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Section 5 (a). This section tells employers that they are to provide a work environment that is free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees. The term recognized leads us to believe that the employer needs to conduct work site inspections, which is true according to 29 CFR part 1926.20(b)(2). This section requires an employer to conduct frequent and regular inspections of the jobsite, materials, and equipment for hazards.

So, how can we be electrically safe in a work environment? To properly answer that we must start at the beginning. We will refer to NFPA’s “Electrical Cycle of Safety,” which starts with a safe installation of an electrical system, followed by properly maintaining that system, and being safe while doing work on the system.

A safe installation of electrical systems begins with the most recent edition of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®). The NEC is updated every three years. Utilizing the latest edition of the NEC not only increases safety but helps ensure that the most up-to-date technology, equipment, and methods available are being used. Electrical wiring in or on any building or structure should be inspected and installed by properly trained and qualified persons. In some states, the law requires a valid electrical license and a permit to install electrical wiring, as well as periodic inspections by a registered electrical inspector to ensure compliance with the NEC. A code compliant installation along with proper maintenance results in an installation that is essentially free from hazards and allows for a normal operating condition to be established. A code-compliant installation makes maintaining the electrical system easier and keeps workers safer when doing so.

According to NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, all electrical equipment must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and applicable codes and standards. A preventive maintenance program must include an inspection and testing program overseen by competent personnel. Electrical equipment must be properly maintained for it to be safely used under normal operating conditions. Improperly maintained electrical equipment may fail at inopportune times, resulting in lost revenue production or worse, loss of life. An injury or loss of life can be the result of items such as an emergency disconnect failing to open properly, or an emergency stop button not stopping equipment, or an overcurrent protective device (OCPD) not clearing a fault in the proper amount of time. A properly maintained electrical system is a safe electrical system!

NFPA 70E® requires an employer to implement, train, and document an electrical safety program, which directs activity appropriate to the risk associated with electrical hazards.

NFPA 70E, section 110.3, shows us that the condition of maintenance is a significant component to an effective electrical safety program (ESP). ESPs are critical since electrical systems have their own inherent hazards that need to be dealt with when maintaining and working on equipment. One potential hazard is electric shock, which is defined in NFPA 70E® as; a source of possible injury or damage to health associated with current through the body caused by contact or approach to exposed energized electrical conductors. An electric shock may cause other injuries besides a burn, such as falling from a ladder and being injured from the fall. This is why NFPA 70E®, requires an employer to implement, train, and document an ESP which directs activity appropriate to the risk associated with electrical hazards and covers:

  • Inspection – making sure new or modified electrical equipment or systems have been inspected to ensure compliance with applicable codes and standards.
  • Condition of maintenance – considering if electrical equipment or systems have been properly maintained.
  • Awareness and self-discipline – designed to create awareness of potential electrical hazards to employees who work in an environment with the presence of those hazards. Must develop the required self-discipline for all employees who must perform work involving electrical hazards.
  • Electrical safety program principles – identify principles upon which the ESP is based.
  • Electrical safety program procedures – must identify procedures to be used before work is started by employees exposed to an electrical hazard.
  • Risk assessment procedure – is basically three things, identify the hazards, which can include human error, assess risks, and implement risk control according to the hierarchy of risk control (HoRC) method.
  • Job safety planning and job briefing – before any work involving exposure to electrical hazards commence the employee in charge shall conduct a job safety plan and job briefing. If any change occurs in the task or scope of work this step needs to be repeated.
  • Incident Investigations – must include elements to investigate all electrical incidents, even if no one was hurt or property damaged.
  • Lockout/Tagout program (LOTO) – The employer shall establish, document, and implement a LOTO program. This program must be applicable to the experience and training of the workers and the conditions of the workplace. It must also meet the requirements in 120.2 through 120.6 and applies to fixed, permanently installed equipment, temporarily installed equipment, and portable equipment.
  • Auditing – audit the ESP to verify that the principles and procedures are still in compliance with NFPA 70E® minimally every three years. Field work and LOTO audits should be done every year to ensure that the procedures and requirements are being followed. All audits must be documented.

A safe work environment can be attained when you incorporate the “Electrical Cycle of Safety” into the daily operations of your business or facility. Remove one of these codes or standards in the cycle and you may end up like a wind turbine that loses a blade, where things may fly apart, and someone will end up getting seriously hurt. ESW

Dean Austin is a Senior Electrical Content Specialist at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In his current role, he serves as an electrical subject matter expert in the development of products and services that support NFPA documents and stakeholders. Austin has 33 years of experience in the electrical industry holding a master electrician license, an electrical inspector and electrical plan reviewer registration in the State of Michigan. To learn more about electrical safety in the workplace visit NFPA’s Electrical Safety Solutions For the Workplace.

Important Notice: Any opinion expressed in this column (blog, article) is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the official position of NFPA or its Technical Committees. In addition, this piece is neither intended, nor should it be relied upon, to provide professional consultation or services.

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