Author(s): Jeff Sargent. Published on September 1, 2015.

WHILE NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, is the standard on safe work practices, there are numerous installation requirements in NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), that provide the necessary means to implement those safe work practices. For instance, locking a disconnecting means in the open position and providing the requisite identification tags is an essential element in creating the type of electrically safe work condition covered in Article 120 of NFPA 70E, and NEC rules requiring lockable disconnecting means facilitate this process.

A number of proposed changes for the 2017 NEC target the installer/maintainer community, a group that is particularly vulnerable to hazards associated with the use of electricity. This group includes electricians, maintenance personnel, and others responsible for maintaining and servicing electrical equipment and whose job tasks expose them to shock, arc flash, and arc blast hazards. In particular, two proposals for the 2017 NEC further the bond between the NEC and NFPA 70E while addressing the safety needs of the installer/maintainer community.

Currently, Section 110.16 of the NEC requires an arc flash warning label on a wide range of electrical equipment that is likely to require examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance while energized. The warning conveyed by this label simply identifies that an arc-flash hazard may exist when enclosure doors or covers are opened or removed to perform work on energized conductors or circuit parts. This label does not provide detail on the level of incident energy at the particular equipment, nor does it specify the requisite personal protective equipment (PPE). This level of warning label detail, however, is specified by Section 130.5(D) in NFPA 70E.

A proposal for the 2017 NEC raises the bar on the information required on the arc flash hazard warning label. The proposal calls for the basic warning label at service equipment to provide the nominal system voltage and the arc-flash boundary, plus one or more of the following: the available incident energy and the corresponding work distance, the minimum arc rating of personal protective clothing, and the site-specific level of PPE. While this proposed revision is limited in application to only service equipment, it is important to note that safe work practices, including the proper selection of PPE, apply anywhere a worker is exposed to a shock or arc-flash hazard.

Another proposal for the 2017 NEC expands the working space requirements for equipment rated 1,000 volts and less to cover electrical equipment installed in locations other than at grade, floor, or platform level. (The increase from 600 to 1,000 volts is also proposed for the 2017 NEC.) The hazards associated with performing justified tasks on energized equipment are increased in many cases where the equipment is located above a ceiling or other space where a worker's movement is compromised by the design of the space. The proposed requirements for work space where the access is limited recognize that not all electrical equipment will be located in spaces that afford ideal working conditions. At the same time, the proposals offer workers enough space to accomplish justifiable energized work, such as diagnostic or troubleshooting tasks.

These recommended revisions are not intended to expand the amount of energized justified work permitted by NFPA 70E or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Rather, they are part of an ongoing effort to promote safe work practices through installation rules in the NEC.

To view these and other proposed changes to the 2017 edition of the NEC, visit the NEC document information webpage and click on the link for submitting comments.

JEFFREY SARGENT is a regional electrical code specialist for NFPA.