Protecting the Inspectors
A proposed revision would include inspection among the tasks covered by NFPA 70E
NFPA Journal, January/February 2011
Section 90.1 of NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, says that the primary purpose of the standard is "to provide a practical safe working area for employees relative to the hazards arising from the use of electricity." The tasks covered by the standard include the installation, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electric conductors, electric equipment, signaling and communications conductors and equipment, and raceways
Absent from these tasks, ironically, is inspection, meaning that the scope of the standard does not cover electrical inspectors, whose job is to ensure public safety.
It is not unusual for electrical inspectors to be in the vicinity of exposed, energized electrical conductors or circuit parts while performing their duties. In fact, inspectors could be inside the limited approach boundary and, in some cases, may cross into the restricted approach boundary. Depending on the equipment being inspected, it is likely an inspector could also be within the arc-flash boundary without the appropriate level of personal protective equipment.
Exposure is eliminated provided the inspection is performed on equipment that has been placed in an electrically safe work condition. But is that always feasible? The need for some inspections to be conducted on energized electrical equipment must be reconciled with the fundamental rule of NFPA 70E, which calls for tasks to be performed on de-energized equipment. Only where it can be demonstrated that turning the equipment off introduces additional hazards or is somehow infeasible does the standard permit the tasks to be performed on energized equipment.
The Technical Committee on Electrical Safety in the Workplace accepted Proposal 70E-9 to the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E to include inspection among the tasks the standard covers. Since the committee received no public comments on this action, the 2012 edition is expected to cover inspection of electrical installations.
It is safe to say that assimilation of NFPA 70E into the work practices of electrical inspectors will not occur overnight. However, the fact that the American National Standard on safe work practices will now cover electrical inspections cannot be ignored. Those who employ electrical inspectors will have to accept the added responsibility of making sure their employees follow safe work practices. The government, be it federal, state, or municipal, employs many electrical inspectors, and the question of law on whether federal- and state-administered occupational safety and health rules apply will have to be sorted out. NFPA 70E is blind to whom inspection employees work for, and the proposed revision brings any inspection employee exposed to an electrical hazard under the NFPA 70E umbrella.
There may be some initial pushback on implementing safe work practices in the inspection workplace, but that would be a natural reaction to something new and unfamiliar. Before this change was proposed to the NFPA 70E technical committee, some inspection agencies in the public and private sectors actively embraced the value of electrical safety for their employees by implementing electrical safety training programs. The State of Idaho, under the leadership of Program Director Al Caine, is a leader in this area, providing training and personal protective equipment to state-employed electrical inspectors.
Electrical inspectors provide a valuable service to the public, and while they aren’t typically subject to the same level of hazard exposure as those performing electrical installation and maintenance, they are not immune to electrical hazards. Electrical inspectors need to be pro-tected like any other employee exposed to a potential electrical shock, arc-flash, or arc-blast hazard, and the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E will help make this happen.
Jeffrey Sargent is NFPA's senior electrical specilist and is staff liason for NFPA 70E.