AUTHOR: Christopher Coache

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Part IV – Two Types of Exposure to Electricity Fatalities

There are two ways to contact energized electrical parts or equipment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database, and those are direct or indirect. Direct exposure to electricity includes contact directly from the power source to the person, such as touching a live wire or getting caught up in an arc-flash. Indirect exposure typically occurs when an object is unintentionally electrified. Indirect exposure to electricity includes when a ladder being carried contacts a power line, when contact is made to an enclosure that is energized, or when electricity is transmitted through a wet surface. Exposure to electricity has been associated with 1,653 fatalities since 2011, according to the BLS. Of those fatalities, 858 were reported to be due to direct contact while 688 were reported as due to indirect contact. The following chart shows the total fatalities associated with each type as well as the voltage associated with those fatalities since 2011. SOURCE: BLS It may seem odd that the number of fatalities for greater than 220 volts is the same for both contact types. However, you may remember from reading last month’s blog that powerlines and transformers account for over half of all electrical fatalities. Many of those fatalities are attributed to contact through a conductive component, such as a ladder, boom truck, or dump trunk. It is probable that these account for many of the indirect exposures above 220 volts. Perhaps employers should evaluate how their electrical safety program addresses risks and tasks when any employee is around a powerline.   RELATED: Download the Key Components of an Electrical Safety Program fact sheet   The direct exposure fatalities for both voltage ranges are troubling since employers are required by Federal Law and NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, to protect employees from known electrical hazards. Electric shock has been recognized as a hazard for over 100 years and arc-flash has been for over 40 years. It is uncommon to have electrical hazards exposed during normal operation of equipment or with equipment that is properly maintained. Making direct contact with an exposed, energized part typically occurs when an employee is knowingly exposed to an industry recognized electrical hazard. Direct exposure fatalities below 220 volts could be due to the perception that household voltages are not as dangerous as over 220 volts and, therefore, an ESWC is not necessary. Lower voltage fatalities could be due to complacency since these voltages are commonly encountered. An employee performing a task near a powerline is as knowingly exposed to a hazard as an employee performing energized work in a panelboard. Whether it is justified or not, the exposure could be due to an assigned task. It could be due to an employee not being trained to recognize electrical hazards for the task assigned to them. It could be due to exposed hazards in equipment that has not been properly maintained. If your electrical safety program does not address what is required by NFPA 70E, every employee could be routinely exposed to electrical hazards since nothing is being done to ensure that they are not.   Fatalities due to indirect exposure to 220 volts and less are substantially fewer than for direct exposure. A lot of equipment in this voltage range is consumer type products. Manufacturers of this equipment often use product standards to evaluate the equipment for safety. These products typically undergo third-party listing due to the risk associated with the consumer use. Often, there are no exposed conductors or parts to make indirect contact with at these lower voltages, which are commonly referred to as household voltages. Although, it is often assumed that direct contact is the focus of NFPA 70E, both contact methods are addressed. Proper application of the conditions of normal operation, approach boundaries, and Section 130.8 could decrease the number of indirect contact fatalities. Establishing an electrically safe work condition, justifying energized work, and using personal protective equipment could decrease the number of direct contact fatalities. Make sure your electrical safety program addresses preventing all possible exposures to electricity from any piece of electrical equipment wherever your employee works.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Part III - The Electrical Components Causing Fatalities in the Workplace.

Last month’s blog revealed the top four locations for exposure to electricity fatalities to be a home, an industrial facility, a construction site, and a street. The next thing being investigated is which electrical components are the major cause of those fatalities. Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database is being used to assist employers in decreasing these workplace fatalities. The following chart shows the top four components attributed to these fatalities since 2011.   Source: BLS Powerline fatalities average 79 per year. The percent of all electrical fatalities due to powerlines, transformers and converters has consistently been 53% (average of 54% since 1992.) Enough information is available from the last 30 years for employers to find ways to prevent these fatalities. Investigation reports show that accidental contact or human error are major factors in these fatalities. A May 1998 NIOSH report (Worker Deaths by Electrocution) listed frequent causes of death as boomed vehicle or conductive equipment contact with an energized powerline. These same two contact methods are causing fatalities twenty-five years later. These fatalities could be one reason why streets are ranked fourth in location of all electric fatalities. Instilling awareness in employees and providing the training required by NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® could aid in deceasing these fatalities. Decreasing these fatalities appears to the be the simplest way to substantially improve electrical safety in the workplace whether the work task being conducted is covered under NFPA 70E or not. Building wiring fatalities average 21 per year. There was a sudden drop in these fatalities in 2010 after several decades of being flat at an average of 24% of all electrical fatalities. Unfortunately, these fatalities have leveled off at 16% of all electrical fatalities since that decrease. Investigating what occurred in the workplace prior to 2010 could provide employers with the knowledge necessary to further decrease these fatalities. BLS data reveals that these fatalities are equally associated with both in-house and contract employees. Proper installation and maintenance of the building wiring plays a role in preventing these fatalities, as does properly establishing an electrically safe work condition when interacting with building wiring. Power cord fatalities average 14 per year. Power cords, electrical cords, and extension cords account for 10% of all electrical fatalities. Every employee interacts with cord-connected equipment daily. Fatalities due to cord use are typically associated with damage, misuse, and improper storage. Compared to the other components on the chart, this is perhaps the easiest to remove from the fatality list. Both NFPA 70E and OSHA standards require inspection of cords prior to use. From fatality investigation reports, inspection of a cord prior to energizing it, as well as training how to properly inspect a cord then tag and isolate damaged cords, can prevent these fatalities. Switchboard fatalities average 11 per year. The percentage of switchboard, switch and fuse fatalities was nearly level (3.8% of all electrical fatalities) for decades prior to 2000. It is disheartening that these fatalities began to trend upwards to an average of 7% of since the end of the 20st century. Of the four discussed components, this is likely where NFPA 70E is mostly associated. These components are where NFPA 70E and an electrically safe work condition can be applied to reduce the number of fatalities. Proper installation and maintenance of electrical systems and components, awareness of electric hazards, inspection of portable equipment and cords, and establishing an electrically safe work condition can help employers minimize exposure to electrical hazards. A well-established electrical safety program along with proper training is crucial in lowering the number of electrical fatalities. Electricity has been relied on since the last decades of the 19th century. Surely something can be done to prevent these fatalities now that we have entered the third decade of the 21st century.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Part II – Be Vigilant When You Work in These Locations

Investigating several aspects of electrical fatalities can help employers move toward further decreasing them. The first thing being investigated in this series is where these fatalities occur. It is common for all employees to interact with electrical equipment during their workday, but it should be uncommon for an employee to be exposed to electrical hazards. However, fatalities have occurred at most work locations. The chart below shows the percentage of electrical fatalities by the workplace location, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Unlike other BLS categories, there should not be much overlap when it comes to the location of a fatality, but there is some. I did not separate them out. I could not find a BLS definition of home as a workplace, but I expect that it includes trades that go to a home to conduct work (HVAC, plumbing, roofing, painting, groundskeeping, etc.) as well as a person working from home. Surprisingly, a home accounts for the most fatalities due to exposure to electricity (32%). An industrial facility is second at 29%. Even though the number of employees working from home increased from 19% in 2019 to 39% in 2020, this does not appear to have skewed the numbers. For example, home as a workplace accounted for 28% of workplace exposure to electricity fatalities in 2011. Home improvement, remodeling, repair, and landscaping businesses are often underregulated. In addition, small companies may be exempt from some OSHA regulations. These could be contributing factors for these home fatalities. These fatalities might also be due to many trades incorrectly considering a home to not be a workplace covered by NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, or considering household voltage to not be an electrical hazard. RELATED: Register for a July 11 webinar from NFPA® on enhancing electrical safety in the workplace With all construction occupations accounting for 48% of electrical fatalities, I expected residential (10%) and non-residential construction sites (12%)—road construction being an example of another type of construction site—to account for the most fatalities on this chart. Combined, these two account for 22% of all electrical fatalities which makes them third for fatalities. The fourth location, streets and highways, was also unexpected. The fatalities (11%) are on par with non-residential construction sites (12%). Public buildings account for 9% of fatalities. Factories and farms are both slightly over 7% of electrical fatalities. Less than 1% of these fatalities occurred in office buildings. I don’t post these blogs just provide you something to read. These blogs are so that you can adjust the way you think and work. Make sure that you are aware of the electrical hazards when working at any location. Take the steps required in NFPA 70E and your company’s electrical safety program to protect yourself from becoming a fatality. Do not let your guard down if you work at a home for any reason. That nearly one-third of exposure to electricity fatalities occur while working at a home is probably as big of a surprise to you as it was to me.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Part I – Comparing Four Decades of Electrical Injuries and Fatalities

To assist all employers in reducing, if not eliminating, workplace electrical injuries and fatalities, I decided to investigate how far electrical safety has progressed over the last 40 years. Information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) database has been used for 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2020. This will be a multipart blog series investigating different aspects of electrical injuries and fatalities. There were 7,405 fatal injuries in the workplace in 1980, and 4,764 in 2020 (a Covid year with significantly fewer fatalities than the previous years). For comparison, excluding 2020, there has been an average of 5,222 fatalities since 2015. It is encouraging that progress has been made in all causes of workplace fatalities, but how is protecting employees from electrical hazards working out? Electrocution was the fifth-leading cause of death in the workplace by the end of the 1970s; there were approximately 600 electrocutions annually at the time, accounting for about 8% of all workplace fatalities. The first edition of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, was issued in 1979 to address those fatalities. What has happened since? Drum roll please … Exposure to electricity is no longer a stand-alone leading cause of workplace fatalities. It is included in a group of exposures to harmful substances or environments that together are currently the sixth-leading cause of fatalities—a vast improvement since NFPA 70E began addressing electrical safety. RELATED: The 2024 edition of NFPA 70E is due out soon. Learn more. It is amazing that in the 1970s exposure to electricity alone caused nearly as many deaths (about 600) as this entire exposure group now does (672 in 2020). Unfortunately, of the named harmful substances or environments, exposure to electricity is the leading cause of fatalities by a factor of 2 and accounts for one-fifth of all these 2020 exposure fatalities. In addition, exposure to electricity is once again on OSHA’s “Fatal Four” for the construction industry. The chart below shows the decrease in exposure to electricity fatalities and injuries (no 1980 online data for injuries) at the end of each decade. Great strides have been made, but there are still some areas where electrical safety can improve. Exposure to electricity fatalities were nearly halved from 582 to 310 in the decade after NFPA 70E was first issued. It took two more decades to halve the fatalities from 310 to 164. Although there were 126 fatalities in 2020, exposure to electricity fatalities has stagnated at around 150 over the last decade. As a percentage of all workplace fatalities, exposure to electricity fatalities has decreased from 8% in 1980 to 3% in 2020. Electrical injuries requiring time away from work have nearly been cut in half (4,806 to 2,380) since 1990. These are good signs that employers have embraced protecting all employees in all workplaces from electrical hazards. The bad news is that, in 2020, 2,380 employees just missed becoming a fatality by dumb luck. Vast improvements in electrical safety have been made in all occupations, but any fatality or injury is cause for further refinement. No employer should be satisfied with an employee electrical injury. Workplace fatalities due to exposure to electricity are preventable. It may seem difficult to further reduce the number of fatalities, but it is easier than it seems. There are four things that an employer can do. First, properly install and maintain equipment so that not only your employees but also groundskeepers, contract workers, painters, and plumbers are protected from electrical hazards whenever they are near or interacting with your electrical equipment. Second, train your employees to recognize and avoid electrical hazards wherever their work environment may be. Third, create or improve your electrical safety program and follow it. The last thing only takes a second because it is simply a matter of flipping a switch to save someone’s life before they might be exposed to an electrical hazard. The use of the most up-to-date edition of NFPA 70E is a key component to establishing electrical safety in the workplace. The 2024 edition of the standard is due out next month. The digital version of the new edition will also be added to NFPA LiNK® next week; visit to learn more.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 12 – Program Controls)

NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® Section 110.5(M)(1) requires auditing of your electrical safety program (ESP) to determine if the ESP continues to comply with current NFPA 70E requirements. Section 110.5(F) requires that the ESP identify the controls by which it is measured and monitored. Electrically safety in the workplace will stagnate without this step where improvements for safety are implemented. Controls are the electrical safety metrics for determining if an ESP is effective and efficient. To evaluate a system, you need to know where you started and how far you have come. Controls must be both measurable and actionable. Metrics are measurable points to determine performance. They are used to determine if improvements to the safety program are required and, if so, what needs to be changed. NFPA 70E requires controls but it is the documented ESP that details what they are and how they are used. It is necessary to identify who is responsible for analyzing the data and incorporating necessary changes. There are two common metrics used to determine the effectiveness of something: lagging and leading. Lagging metrics provide a reactive view of an ESP. Lagging metrics might include the time lost to injuries, the money spent on worker compensation, or the amount of training an employee has received. Under this metric, an injury occurs, and the ESP is changed to address it. A shock is reported, and a change is made. Leading metrics identify and correct contributing factors before an incident occurs. Leading metrics might include the number of hazards identified and eliminated, the reduction in the number of authorized energized work permits, or the number of work procedures altered for de-energized work. Under this metric, a decrease in electricity injuries might be evident after hazard elimination was instituted or after every employee had been trained on the proper use of with extension cords. A combination of these metrics can enhance a safe work program. The next step is determining where further improvements could be made to the system. The ESP must detail what controls are implemented, how they are evaluated, how data is collected, how changes are incorporated, and who is responsible for maintaining the control system. The process should address how much change may occur at one time. Incremental steps are easier to monitor than whole scale changes. If the system heads in the wrong direction it is easier to correct its course, then try something else. Make sure that your ESP has appropriate controls to keep electrical safety progressing in your workplace. This concludes the 12-part series on an ESP. NFPA 70E requirements cannot be used as appropriate procedures or for training for any specific task. A well-developed ESP is critical to achieving electrical safety in the workplace as well as for complying with NFPA 70E and OSHA regulations. Without it there are no policies and procedures available for employee training and there can be no qualified persons without proper training. Review your ESP to make sure all requirements and safety issues are properly addressed.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 10 – Incident Investigations)

Does an employee get punished when they make a mistake? Are they afraid of notifying a supervisor when something goes wrong? Is an employee who points out a safety issue sent back to work without having the issue resolved? One NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® requirement that is occasionally not well addressed in an electrical safety program (ESP) is the incident investigation requirement in Section 110.5(J). The reason is that with electricity no incident should be treated as minor. Every 120-volt electric shock is a brush with death. However, electric shocks, minor burns, and unjustified live work are not reported until a greater injury occurs. Investigations required by NFPA 70E are not for the purpose of assigning blame. They are to improve employee safety. An ESP must include the details of how, why, when and what happens with incident investigations. Incident investigations should not be limited to those where an employee is injured to the point where medical attention is required. An electric current’s path through a human body affects each person differently. An employee with a pacemaker may have a problem days after an incident. Employees should be trained and encouraged to report any dangerous situation as well as any injury regardless of the cause or severity. The investigation could reveal that the ESP, work procedures, protective equipment, training, or test instruments require revision to prevent a future occurrence, injury, or death. Without an investigation into what occurred there is possibility that a fatality could happen the next time that same task is conducted. The employee could have received an electric shock due to unjustified energized work, insufficient training, damaged equipment, wrong qualification for the task, inappropriate personal protective equipment, flawed job planning, or errors in the procedure. But none of that will matter unless this near-death situation is reported and the cause rectified. Employers and employees must accept their responsibilities and work together to find the cause of any incident. Although electrical incidents are often the result of human error, an employee does not intentionally initiate an electrical incident. However, it is important that an enforcement program be established for willful violations of safety regulations. The ESP must assign responsibility for each step in the incident investigation. The procedure must not only cover what is required as part of an investigation but the training for the investigator. The incident and investigation must be documented. There can be no improvement in safety without a final step requiring that necessary changes be incorporated. If it is determined that training was the culprit, modification of the training program could include increasing the frequency of training or adding follow-up verification of compliance. The ESP must address who is be responsible for incorporating the improvements. Do not use incident investigations as means to punish but to gain knowledge and to educate. Involving employees in the process gives them a personal stake in improving workplace safety. For the ESP to work, employers and employees must cooperate and trust that safely returning home each day is paramount in the workplace. 
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