AUTHOR: Corey Hannahs

Amazon Solar Shutdown Provides Opportunity for Praise and Reflection on Safe Solar Installations

According to recent reports from CNBC and other major news outlets, Amazon temporarily shut down all solar power generation at their North American facilities last year as they worked to investigate potential fire safety issues with these systems. While the details of what Amazon found in their investigations during the shutdown are unspecified and therefore can’t be expounded upon, knowing that Amazon recognized a compounding problem and made safety paramount by shutting down their solar generation at 47 North American sites should be commended. Although there was significant financial loss to Amazon by moving forward with the shutdown and launching the investigation, making the decision to do so aligned with the principles established by the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™—specifically, the company chose to make an Investment in Safety. The NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. There are eight key components in the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. These components are interdependent. When they work together, the Ecosystem protects everyone. If any component is missing or broken, the Ecosystem can collapse, often resulting in tragedy. Almost always we can trace the cause of fire and life safety tragedies back to the breakdown of one or more components. Aside from the aforementioned Investment in Safety, there are several other key areas of the Ecosystem that apply to safe solar installations. Codes, compliance, and skilled workers With a technology that is constantly changing like solar photovoltaic (PV) power, using the most current codes is critical for a safe installation. Within the Ecosystem, this would fall under the Development and Use of Current Codes component. As an example, NFPA 70,® National Electrical Code® (NEC®), covers the installation of PV systems in Article 690, including the array circuit(s), inverter(s), and controller(s) for such systems. Article 691 covers large-scale PV electric supply stations not under exclusive utility control, such as privately owned solar farms. Yet many areas of the country do not use the most current edition of the NEC, with some areas using editions dating back as far as 2008. That is a 15-year difference between the most current NEC and some of the oldest versions being used. As can be expected, there have been significant changes in product development and safe solar installation requirements over those years. For instance, rapid shutdown is a means of solar equipment reducing the potential for electric shock within 30 seconds of activation of shutdown, intended to raise the level of safety for firefighters that are responding to potential solar array fires. Rapid shutdown was introduced in the 2014 cycle of the NEC so anyone utilizing prior editions would not be providing this level of safety for first responders. This is a clear example of why it is so important to utilize the most current codes for solar installations in order to achieve maximum safety.   Fortunately, even for jurisdictions that are lagging behind in the use of the most recent codes, professionals can choose to take trainings on more recent editions. The NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC) (2020) Online Training Series, for example, provides trainees with key information and interactive exercises on the 2020 edition of the NEC. With the 2023 NEC having just taken effect September 1, be on the lookout for forthcoming training based on that version of the NEC.   Another area of the Ecosystem that is necessary for a safe solar installations is Code Compliance. The only way to truly ensure a safe installation is by verifying it through effective code enforcement. Those tasked with inspecting solar installations for safety must consider everything involved while reviewing the systems. NEC requirements as well as manufacturer installation requirements are critical items that must be met. It is also important to remember that code compliance does not end with the initial installation of the system. Any time a solar installation gets updated or modified, it is just as important to have that system reviewed again for continued compliance with the necessary codes as it was to have it inspected in the first place. The individuals that perform the solar installation matter as well. The Ecosystem requires a Skilled Workforce in order to ensure safe installations. Those that are considered skilled are aware of the most current codes and know how to apply them to the installation. They have been trained to properly handle, install, and maintain the equipment that is involved. From an enforcement standpoint, the NEC takes skill a step further by requiring that only qualified persons perform the installation of solar equipment, associated wiring, and interconnections. By definition within the NEC, a qualified person has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. One critical way a Skilled Workforce can be created is through training programs like the ones offered by NFPA. The Photovoltaic and Energy Storage Systems Online Training Series, for example, is a four-part online program that covers topics that can assist with design, installation, maintenance, and inspection requirements for PV and energy storage systems. The training educates users on relevant code requirements for PV systems and ESS not just within the NEC, but also within other leading codes including NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®, and others. When it comes to safe installations of solar power it is critical that we play offense, instead of defense. Choosing to be proactive by ensuring safe installations that align with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem up front will prevent the need for reactive decisions to correct any potential problems down the line. In the United States alone, solar power capacity has grown from approximately 0.34 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 97.2 gigawatts today. With no slowing down in sight, it is critical that those involved in performing solar installations and maintenance are doing so with safety as an important and necessary part of the process. Learn more about all of NFPA’s resources on PV and energy storage systems at nfpa.org/ess.

Now Issued, We Thank Those That Brought the 2023 NEC to the Top of the Mountain

It’s been a long climb to the top, but we made it – together! The NFPA Standards Council has voted to issue the 2023 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) with an effective date of September 1, 2022. With a pandemic overarching most of this revision cycle, we faced challenges never before seen in working through the NFPA Standards Development Process to create the 2023 NEC. A very special thanks goes out to the public for their valuable inputs and comments, the countless volunteer committee members for sharing their valuable time and knowledge, and NFPA staff for all of their hard work of governing the process and keeping everything on task through the challenges brought about by the pandemic. This truly has been an NEC cycle like none we have ever seen before. While there were new challenges along the way, it never delayed the development process which is rather inconceivable considering the way the world was being impacted by the pandemic. Not only did it not slow down, but it also increased. Every actionable item of the NFPA Standards Development Process increased in the 2023 NEC cycle versus the 2020 NEC cycle including: Public Inputs (PIs), First Revisions (FRs), First Correlating Revisions (FCRs), Correlating Notes (CNs), Public Comments (PCs), Second Revisions (SRs), Second Correlating Revisions (SCRs), and Certified Amending Motions (CAMs). After two years of not having our annual NFPA Conference & Expo in-person, 2022 allowed us to finally all get beck together in Boston for C&E in June where the Technical Meeting was held. During the meeting, the 55 CAMs for the 2023 NEC were presented and most were debated by membership on the meeting floor. The only CAMs that were not debated were those that were not pursued by the submitter, often due to the results of a previously debated CAM around the same topic failing to get the necessary votes from membership. In early August, the NFPA Standards Council heard fourteen appeals related to the 2023 NEC, which after the voting of the Council resulted in 18 amendments and four concurrently issuing Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs). Some of the topics of the appeals that were heard dealt with optical fiber cable, copper-clad aluminum wiring, surge protection devices, GFCI protection, and swimming pool bonding. After all was considered, the preliminary minutes for the NFPA Standards Council Meeting concluded that the Council set an issuance date for the 2023 NEC as August 12, 2022, and the aforementioned effective date as September 1, 2022.   After the thrill of climbing the mountain, and all that was overcome, every good climber sticks a flag in the ground to celebrate their accomplishments. The mountain that we all climbed to reach the pinnacle of the 2023 NEC should be commemorated as well. Our distinctive flag in the ground for the 2023 NEC comes by way of NFPA LiNK®, which is NFPA’s digital access to codes and standards, plus so much more. All previous NEC code cycles always had a delay between when it was issued and when it was available due to the time it took for printing, but the 2023 NEC will be different. The 2023 NEC will become available in NFPA LiNK® on September 1, 2022. That’s right, if you are a subscriber to NFPA LiNK®, the 2023 NEC will be available to you on the same day that it becomes effective. For individuals that still prefer the book version of the NEC, the softbound, spiral, and handbook versions are available for preorder now and will become available this fall. The best view always comes when you reach the peak of the mountain. From what I can see, our ability to make electrical installations around the world safer just improved with the addition of the 2023 NEC. A very special thank you goes out to all of you that helped us to climb the mountain! For more information on the features of NFPA LiNK®, including access to a 14-day risk-free trial for all new users, please visit www.nfpa.org/LiNK.

Proper Use of Ladders on Jobsites Can Help Workers to Mitigate Personal Risk

Jobsites are a hazardous place on their own accord. That is before we start adding people, and their associated decision making, into the equation, which has the potential to make the jobsite even more dangerous. Add in working on or around electricity and the risks can compound even more. With so many things that can be out of our control on jobsites, such as someone making a decision that puts another person in harm’s way, we would be foolish to not mitigate risk by controlling the things that we can control. One thing that we can control individually on the job is ladder usage. Ladders are typically handled by a single person, which makes him/her solely responsible for how safely they use one. Aside from maintaining personal safety, proper ladder use is also necessary to avoid any potential citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which may result in financial penalties. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that by far the two highest categories of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020 were “Installation, maintenance, and repair” and “Construction and extraction.” Combined, these two categories totaled more than 11,000 injuries, resulting in at least one day away from work, which was over 49 percent of the total number of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020. It is important to note that this data is based on the recorded injuries and does not incorporate any other ladder injuries that may have gone as undocumented. While it could be argued that construction and maintenance workers use ladders more than other occupations, making injury a higher probability, a counterpoint could also be made that individuals working in construction and maintenance should also have a better understanding of how to use ladders based on their experience and training. While the user is responsible for their own safety while using the ladder, employers have the responsibility of making sure that the employee is properly trained to do so. There are several key areas that should be considered when using a ladder on the jobsite, to help mitigate any associated safety risks. The most common ladders used on the jobsite are typically stepladders and extension ladders. Each ladder should be utilized in the capacity that it was designed for. As an example, it can be common for workers to lean a stepladder against a wall to perform their work however stepladders were not designed for this use, as they are required to have the metal spreaders built into the ladder in the fully extended, locked position prior to using the ladder. If a stepladder is leaned against a wall, essentially being used as a single ladder, it is not possible to have the metal arms extended as required. This is an example of where it is necessary to choose the proper ladder for the specific task and then use it correctly. Another common misuse of ladders on the job is standing on the top of a ladder that is not designed for the purpose. Ladder manufacturers put clear labels on ladders that specifically tell you not to stand above a certain point on the ladder, which should be strictly adhered to. Ladders are also rated for specific loads, that should not be exceeded, due to the potential for the ladder buckling because of overloading. When considering the load that will be imposed on the ladder, users should consider both their personal bodyweight but also the weight of any additional tools or materials that the will be carrying up the ladder. Another key consideration for selecting the proper ladder is the material that the ladder is made from. The sheer nature of an electrician working with electricity while using a ladder makes it clear that a conductive aluminum ladder is not a good choice for their line of work. But what about a painter that is working near a power line? A metal ladder is not a good choice in that application either. Choosing the proper ladder for the proper task and environment, and using it properly, is a key first step in ladder injury prevention. Ladders should always be visually checked before each use. Due to improper usage, ladders that were visually checked and okay for use this morning, may not be okay in the afternoon. For example, if someone were to stand on one of the supports of a ladder that does fully rated steps on the backside, the supports could become damaging making the ladder unsafe for use. When performing visual inspections on ladders, some key areas to check are: Structural damage Split or bent side rails Missing or damaged steps and spreaders Grease, dirt, or other contaminants that could cause a slip or fall While climbing or descending a ladder, it is also critical to maintain 3-points of contact at all times. This can be accomplished by maintaining two hands and one foot or by one hand and two feet. Ensuring that 3-points of contact are maintained at all times will limit any potential imbalance on the ladder that could result in a devastating fall injury. Falls from ladders are likely to have attributed to many of the 161 fatal ladder injuries that were reported in 2020. Even a fall from a relatively low height can prove to be deadly if an individual were to hit their head or fall on a sharp object below. Continuing to maintain 3-points of contact whenever climbing or descending a ladder will help workers to remain safe and avoid becoming a statistic. Personal safety is just that – personal. Deciding to use a ladder, or not to use a ladder, along with the how the ladder is utilized while working, is a personal decision. For those of us who work on construction jobsites every day, the activities by others on the job that we cannot control already puts our wellbeing and lives at risk. So, why wouldn’t we want to control the things we can to help mitigate any additional risk, such as utilizing ladders safely? It is a sure guarantee that the BLS will produce a ladder injury report next year and every year that follows, but we can all play a key role in whether those numbers are climbing up the ladder or down the ladder. I hope to see you all safely at ground level. For more information on how NFPA can help electrical professionals to stay safe on the jobsite, please visit our Electrical Safety Solutions page.
Air conditioner

Three Key Steps to Help Reduce Home Electrical Hazards as We Beat the Summer Heat

As more people continue to work from home, all-day computer use, coupled with an increased demand for air conditioning during this summer’s record high temperatures and humidity, can put a strain on home electrical systems. An article in this week’s New York Times, “Heat Wave: Why Home Offices Add to Con Ed’s Stress,” emphasizes this point and highlights the growing concern of the load on New York’s electrical system as the country heads into one of the hottest months of the year. Keep yourself and loved ones safe and reduce the risk of home electrical fires when using air conditioners at home and other equipment needing electricity: Plug air conditioner (A/C) power supply cords directly into wall outlets, without utilizing extension cords, and ensure the circuit is adequately sized for the load of the air conditioner. If the circuit is dedicated to the air conditioner, the ampacity of the air conditioner (found on the nameplate) can be 80 percent of the circuit rating. For example, if the circuit is rated at 20 amps, the air conditioner should draw no more than 16 amps. If there are other loads on the circuit with the air conditioner, the ampacity of the air conditioner (found on the nameplate) can be 50 percent of the circuit rating. So, if there are other loads on a 20-amp circuit, the air conditioner should draw no more than 10 amps. Ensuring your air conditioner is not overloading the circuit it is supplied by will help safeguard your electrical system and your residence. For more information about electrical safety during the summer months and beyond, visit the NFPA home electrical safety webpage.
Electrical workers

Fact Sheet Highlights Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance

For those of us who utilize NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) and NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, on a regular basis, we know the importance that the NEC plays when it comes to the installation of safe electrical systems and the safe work practices that 70E provides, allowing us to perform those installations and maintenance, safely. But there's a third document that's key to this equation: NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, which covers equipment maintenance. 70B offers guidelines for maintaining equipment after the initial installation is done and regular usage begins to impose wear and tear on the equipment. While each document covers a specific area, by using them together, it helps provide the safest electrical system possible while maintaining a safe working environment for those performing the necessary tasks. For example, NFPA 70B deals with electrical equipment maintenance, the NEC stipulates the installation rules necessary for a proper installation, and NFPA 70E addresses safe work practices needed to help ensure that the installation and maintenance are done safely. When the three are used in concert, and correctly, they provide for a complete electrical safety cycle. When one or more pieces are missing, it may leave the door open to catastrophic accidents—even death. To help workers navigate this “cycle of safety,” NFPA has developed a new NFPA 70B fact sheet that explains its purpose and highlights its relationship to related codes and standards. It also points out key chapters and the value of an effective electrical preventative maintenance program (EPM).     Learn more about NFPA 70B by downloading the free fact sheet. (PDF) For additional information, visit NFPA's document information webpage.
Harbor from Fort Mackinac

4 Tips to Help Prevent Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) Over Memorial Day Weekend and Throughout the Summer Months

Memorial Day provides us all with a time to reflect on the fallen heroes that have sacrificed their own lives, so we can have the many freedoms they provided us. Here in Michigan, and likely in many other states, Memorial Day is seen as the “Gateway to Summer.” Somewhat of a “rite of passage” into warm weather, BBQs, and vacations, while spending time with those we care most about. Our family makes it a point to visit Mackinac (pronounced ma-kuh-naa) Island at least once every summer. Mackinac Island is home to Fort Mackinac, established during the American Revolution by the British in 1780 and overtaken by American forces in 1796. The picture shown above depicts the view from elevated Fort Mackinac, looking down onto the Mackinac Island harbor. Every summer when our ferry docks at the island, I look up at Fort Mackinac and think about how grateful I am to have this moment with my family. How grateful I am to all Americans who gave their own lives to help make our individual moments possible. For our trip to the island a couple summers ago, we decided to venture outside our normal day trip and make it an overnight trip. After a long day of sightseeing, after dinner, mom and dad were ready to kick their feet up and relax but the kids, still full of energy that we wish we had, had other ideas. After some intense negotiating, we agreed that the parents would be able to wind down on the porch just outside our room, while watching the kids spend time in the oversized, built-in 25-person hot tub that was just steps away from our room. That same hot tub was just several steps away from the harbor waters. As my wife and I were just getting settled into relaxation mode, I heard it – SPLASH!!! Looking up, I saw three of our four children standing inches from the harbor water, appearing ready to jump in themselves, and the head of our eldest child bobbing in the water. Deciding the tub waters were too hot for them, the kids decided to jump into the harbor waters to cool off. They were having an absolute blast! So, why did I feel like I had just been punched in the gut? “GET OUT!!!”, I yelled, loud enough that I was sure I had awoken the dead from the island. My fatherly instincts had kicked in. Our kids are all great swimmers, so that wasn’t my concern. The issue was Electric Shock Drowning, also known as ESD, that I have learned about since becoming an employee at NFPA.   It is hard for me to fathom that, as a master electrician with over 30 years’ experience working in a state that has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world, I had never even heard of ESD, before joining NFPA just a few months prior. To be honest, it irked me that I spent so long working in the electrical industry and still did not have the information to help protect my family from this “silent killer”; to protect my family from the same heartache that Lucas Ritz’s family has felt for years, as a result of losing him to ESD. Initially, I learned that ESD is somewhat different from how we typically view electrical hazards, like shock and arc flash. Yes, it is shock related as the title suggests, but it isn’t the direct electric shock that kills. ESD is typically a low-level AC current, induced into the water by defective marina, or boat, electrical systems that passes through the body causing muscular paralysis which renders the victim unable to swim, thereby causing drowning. In many cases, victims don’t even feel the electrical current when they enter the water to swim. Freshwater is particularly susceptible to ESD incidents because the human body is much more conductive than the water itself, permitting more current to flow through the body in freshwater versus saltwater. Once I learned a little about ESD, I longed to know more so I could help continue to spread the message that had somehow evaded me for so long. In doing so, maybe I could help someone else avoid the heartache of losing a loved one to ESD. As I looked for more information, I found that the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association website was a great resource to help me understand more about what ESD is and how it can be prevented. To date, some of the most helpful tips I have found around preventing ESD are: Don’t swim in marina waters. While there are lots of things that can happen in marina waters that could cause an ESD incident, there is one thing that will prevent an ESD in every potential instance – not swimming in marina waters. If you don’t enter the water, the risk of an ESD incident drops to zero. Don’t jump in to help others. When you see someone who appears to be drowning, it is human nature to immediately help. As hard as it is – don’t! While witnessing a potential ESD taking place, jumping in may just add an additional victim. There have been many cases of ESD where it has left multiple victims for this exact reason, including one instance in Arizona two years ago that killed two brothers. If you see what you believe to be an ESD taking place: call 911, turn off power, throw a life ring, and move the person to safety using a nonconductive pole or object. Swim away from the tingle. If someone is in the water and begins to feel a tingle, they should immediately swim away from where they feel the tingle until it is no longer felt. Instruct them to avoid any metal items, such as ladders that they might otherwise try to use to get out of the water. Spread the word about ESD. Being an electrician for over 30 years and spending a lot of our family time on the water, I should have known about ESD well before my employment at NFPA. Knowing the tragedy that ESD can cause, it leaves me wondering how many others are unaware. To eliminate ESD altogether, it is crucial that every one of us spread the word about ESD and encourage those around us not to take a chance by swimming in marina waters. When you mix a hot summer day with nearby cool water, it is only natural for people to want to jump in. That’s all our kids were doing on that Memorial Day weekend a couple years ago. We all learned something that day. As they watched the video that I showed them telling the story of Lucas Ritz, the kids learned about ESD and why dad yelled at them to get out of the water  – because I loved and cared about them. Personally, I learned just how important it is raise awareness of the hazards associated with ESD. Ultimately, a day that could have ended in tragedy, resulted in an understanding of the dangers around ESD and that swimming in marinas just isn’t safe. Considering all that is at stake, we could sure use more help raising awareness of ESD. Won’t you join us? For more information on Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) and related resources like videos and tip sheets to share, please visit the NFPA “Electrical Safety Around Water” webpage.
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