The goal of any safety program should be zero incidents and injuries. Adhering to the National Fire Protection Association's Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E) can help take that goal from concept to reality. This paper will provide ways for complying with the requirements of the 70E standard. It will also offer suggestions for establishing and implementing a comprehensive electrical safety program.
The 70E standard was created in 1979 at the request of The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assist in the enforcement of electrical workplace safety. A major change to the standard was introduced in 2004 when safe work practice elements were introduced. The standard is currently "in cycle" with the next publication date being 2009. While not directly citable under the OSHA act NFPA 70E is enforced mainly through the use of the General Duty clause.
NFPA 70E applies to most workplace environments. Understanding the requirements of Chapter 1 is essential for employees who are exposed to "live parts" over 50 volts or where an electrical arc flash hazard exists. This includes the hazardous daily activity of diagnostic testing and troubleshooting.
The 70E standard should be used as a reference when conducting shock and arc flash hazard assessments, when reviewing specific work tasks using the hazard/risk category tables, and for making personal protective equipment selections.
Employers are responsible for creating and maintaining a safe workplace environment and for providing and enforcing written safety procedures. This would include establishing an electrical safety program. An electrical safety program is an organized approach that prevents injuries and equipment damage by eliminating hazards, exposures, and by using personal protective equipment. Employers are required to create policies and procedures for working on or near live components, provide training for both qualified and unqualified employees, establish safe work practices, and develop lockout/tagout policies. Once these programs are established they must be audited to ensure compliance which includes a process for correcting deficiencies and investigating incidents.
Implementing an electrical safety program can prevent injuries. Creating and maintaining this program will increase spending. However, not protecting your employees from electrical hazards can cause skyrocketing costs such as increases in insurance or workers' compensation premiums, catastrophic medical payments, large litigation settlements, equipment damage, and production down-time, impugning your corporate reputation, possible bankruptcy, and even criminal prosecution. Your implementation of the 70E standard's requirements within your safety program is evidence that you have acted reasonably should litigation occur. Simply stated, implementing an effective electrical safety program is "good business".