The Crucial Role of Licensed Engineers in Performing Arc Flash Studies: State Regulations vs. NFPA 70E

By Dave Hernandez, Contributor

As an engineering consultant specializing in arc flash studies, it is essential to understand the professional engineering licensure requirements governing this field. Conducting arc flash studies involves assessing electrical power systems for potential hazards, calculating incident energy levels, and implementing appropriate safety measures to mitigate the risks associated with arc flash incidents. While NFPA 70E is widely recognized as a critical electrical safety standard, it is crucial to note that it does not regulate engineering practice nor dictate state rules and regulations. In this article, we will explore the reasons why a licensed electrical engineer is essential for conducting arc flash studies while focusing on state regulations that consider arc flash studies a practice of professional engineering.

Why Select a Professional Engineer for your Arc Flash Study?

Professional engineers undergo rigorous education and training, equipping them with the necessary expertise and technical knowledge to perform complex engineering analyses. Arc flash studies require a deep understanding of power systems where licensed electrical engineers possess the necessary background knowledge to accurately assess electrical infrastructure, evaluate potential hazards, and develop effective mitigation strategies. They can identify weak points in the system, assess equipment conditions, analyze electrical fault currents, and provide insights into potential risks which enable organizations to implement appropriate protective measures. Arc flash studies involve making critical engineering decisions that can directly impact the safety of workers and the integrity of electrical systems. Licensed engineers assume professional liability for their work, holding themselves accountable for the accuracy of their assessments and recommendations. Their professional licenses and adherence to ethical codes serve as a safeguard, providing clients with the confidence that the arc flash study is conducted with the highest level of professionalism and expertise. Arc flash incidents are subject to regulations and standards aimed at safeguarding the workforce. Professional engineers are well-versed in these relevant codes and standards to ensure that the assessments are compliant, minimizing legal and safety risks for organizations. Arc flash studies go beyond hazard identification; they also involve designing and implementing mitigation strategies. Licensed engineers possess the ability to develop effective engineering controls, such as protective device coordination, arc flash boundary determination, and PPE requirements. Their expertise ensures that these strategies are tailored to the specific needs of the facility, optimizing safety while considering operational constraints.

The Practice of Professional Engineering: Arc Flash Studies

Professional engineering licensure is a crucial requirement for electrical engineers conducting arc flash studies. State regulatory bodies oversee the licensing process, which involves meeting educational prerequisites, passing examinations, and acquiring relevant professional experience. By consensus, all engineering boards in the U.S. define the practice of engineering as follows: “any professional service or creative work which requires engineering education, training, and experience in the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences such as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, design, and supervision of construction for the purpose of ensuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any public or private utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects.” Therefore, any electrical evaluation offered to the public, such as an arc flash study, is considered the practice of professional engineering by all US engineering boards and hence must be performed under the responsible charge of a licensed professional engineer in the jurisdiction in which the study is conducted.

A Common Misconception: State Regulations vs. NFPA 70E

It is often misconstrued that NFPA 70E regulates how arc flash studies are performed, which couldn’t be further from the truth. NFPA 70E is a widely accepted standard for methods of conducting arc flash studies, however it does not regulate the practice of engineering to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public; the state engineering boards do. There is also no mention within the standard that arc flash studies must be performed under the responsible charge of a professional engineer that is licensed the particular jurisdiction in which it is conducted. Because this is not mentioned, many contractors that only adhere to NFPA 70E mistakenly assume they need not be licensed in engineering to conduct arc flash studies. These actions have caused many individuals and/or companies to be in violation of unlicensed practice of arc flash services in many U.S. jurisdictions. There have been several instances in the past few years where state boards have issued disciplinary action against unlicensed individuals and/or companies. It is important to note that merely just offering arc flash services without being licensed is a violation with every state engineering board. In all cases, the individuals and/or companies were required to pay substantial fines and cease offering engineering services until compliance with all state laws and regulations were met, including obtaining the appropriate engineering licensure.

It is important for companies to recognize that while NFPA 70E provides essential electrical safety standards, it does not govern the practice of engineering and should be interpreted in conjunction with state rules and regulations. By adhering to these requirements, engineering consultants can ensure their competence, professionalism, and commitment to electrical safety. State engineering boards have the authority to establish licensure requirements for electrical engineers performing arc flash studies within their jurisdictions. These requirements are designed to ensure health, safety, and welfare of the public. By entrusting arc flash studies to licensed electrical engineers, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to the safety of their workforce and the integrity of their power systems. The involvement of licensed engineers provides peace of mind, knowing that the assessments are conducted by professionals who prioritize safety, accountability, and the highest level of engineering excellence. ESW

Dave Hernandez is among the nation’s top experts in the Power & Energy sector serving as a distinguished Professional Engineer licensed in 52 U.S. jurisdictions. He has held responsible charge of over 25,000 projects and sits on technical committees helping develop electrical legislation across North America.

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