Keeping the Lights On
A pair of tips for property managers and electrical contractors.
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2009
Office buildings, apartment buildings, schools, commercial facilities, and other nonindustrial facilities are large users of electricity, and continuity of service is very important to them. Industrial facilities generally have qualified electrical personnel on site for most of their routine electrical maintenance, but many commercial and retail buildings are run by property managers unfamiliar with their buildings’ electrical systems and the associated electrical safety requirements. They hire contractors to take care of their routine maintenance and outage requirements.
NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, is a good resource to ensure electrical safety in such facilities. Two revisions in the 2009 edition are particularly important to these building managers and owners, who must provide appropriate electrical safety training for their personnel, and their electrical contractors.
The first is Section 110.5, Relationships with Contractors (Outside Service Personnel, etc.), which outlines the host employer’s responsibilities and the contract employer’s responsibilities. In the case of a high-rise office building, for example, the host employer could be the building’s owner or the management firm hired by the building owner, depending on the agreements between the two. The contract employer would be the electrical contractor hired to work at the building.
The host employer is required to inform the contractor of any known hazards covered by NFPA 70E that the contractor or the contractor’s employees may not recognize. The host employer is also responsible for providing information about their installation that the contract employer needs to make the assessments required by Sections 110.5(A)(1) a and b.
The other change that affects these facilities is found in Section 130.3(C), which requires that electrical equipment be labeled with an arc flash warning specific to that equipment at that facility. The warning should include either the required personal protective equipment or the incident-energy level and must be provided by the host employer.
Before the contract employer—that is, the electrical contractor—agrees to work for a building manager or owner, he should ask for information about the facility. If the host employer does not have the information, then that is a good time to discuss the need for it. If a contract employer does not ask for the information, it could be a warning to the host employer that the contract employer may not rigorously follow NFPA 70E.
Two of the assessments required in Chapter 1 are the shock hazard analysis and the arc flash hazard analysis, including an incident-energy analysis. To conduct these assessments, the contractor needs the building electrical drawings, including single-line diagrams. An electrical contractor generally cannot conduct the arc flash hazard analysis because he needs to know the incident energy available at different locations where work needs to be done. He cannot use “typical” data because each building is different, and the utility feed to each building is different. The building owner should have this information available for the contractor. To get it, the host employer can have an electrical consultant do the required study or, for new facilities, require that the building engineer provide the information as a part of the building’s initial design package.
A host employer should require the contractor to meet all requirements of OSHA and NFPA 70E and provide the contractor with all relevant electrical information on the host facilities. The contract em-ployer should train his people in the OSHA requirements and those of NFPA 70E, look for the required electrical information, and insist on only working on equipment that is de-energized or insist on an electrical work permit signed by the responsible host employer before any work is required while equipment is energized.
Bill Buss is senior electrical engineer for NFPA and is staff liason for NFPA 70E.