AUTHOR: Derek Vigstol


Saving Lives by Following the Law and an Electrical Safety Program

OSHA requires employers to provide their employees with a working environment that is free from known and recognized hazards. That is the law and there is no getting around it. For the electrical world, in order to do this, an employer must develop an electrical safety program. This program becomes the blueprint for the procedures that employees must follow, and the safety measures that employers must put in place to protect employees from the hazards that electricity presents. But what goes into developing an electrical safety program? As we close out National Electrical Safety Month this week, we're addressing this question that has troubled employers since they first learned they need to have a safety program. Developing an electrical safety program that ensures nothing bad will ever happen is the top priority from most employers, however, it's difficult to know how every written procedure will work before putting it into practice and seeing how well it performs. So, where do we start? NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, spells out what an electrical safety program must contain in section 110.1 in the 2018 edition. (And just a side note - the 2021 edition that will be released later this year will see this section shift to 110.5. This is essentially just a re-organization move as other requirements are moved to Article 110 from 130.) There is also information found in Annex E that is intended to help employers understand what goes into an electrical safety program. But regardless of where in the book this information resides, these are just the building blocks; how the program looks, feels, and gets developed is 100 percent up to the employer. The first thing I like to stress when I am in front of a class, like the Developing an Electrical Safety Program Workshop that we developed for the NFPA training department, is that the program must identify the principles on which it is based. Examples of electrical safety program principles can be found in Annex E. My personal favorite is to de-energize whenever and wherever possible. So many put such an emphasis in their programs around procedures and policies for working energized that they forget the most important thing:  the safest way to work on electrical equipment is in an electrically safe work condition. An electrical safety program that makes an electrically safe work condition the number one priority is a requirement if an employer is following NFPA 70E. Other examples of electrical safety principles to develop a program around might be that all work will have some sort of pre-planning activity prior to commencing, or another principle could be to expect the unexpected. If it can go wrong, it probably will at some point. Once we have our guiding principles upon which our program will be based, we need to have a way to measure the success of what we have built. This is where the program controls come into play: What type of training will you provide your employees? How will you ensure that employees are indeed qualified persons for a given task or on a certain piece of equipment? How will an employee make sure that every necessary question has been asked and answered before they start the task? These are just a few examples of the controls that must be worked into an employer's program so that the program has the best chance of providing that workplace free from hazards to employees that OSHA requires. Last but certainly not least, after we have identified what our program is based on and how to ensure the success of our program, then we can get into to the details, or the actual procedures that employees will follow. The procedures will spell out the specific steps to ensuring employee safety. These will include items like the steps for establishing an electrically safe work condition, assessing the risk to the employee performing certain tasks, and the process for filling out an energized electrical work permit. There must also be a procedure laid out in the program that spells out how it will be determined what additional measures must be taken to protect employees when they must be exposed to a hazard. Keep in mind that even if a program is based on zero energized work being performed, even the process of establishing an electrically safe work condition can expose an employee to both shock and arc flash hazards. These hazards exist until the voltage has been verified that it has been removed and steps have been taken to ensure it can't be turned back on without the worker's knowledge. Whatever measures are taken, they must be determined in accordance with the hierarchy of risk control methods which emphasizes what priority must be given to each method of mitigating risks to employees. This hierarchy lists hazard elimination as the most effective method and personal protective equipment, or PPE, as the least effective method in protecting employees. Therefore, it should also make sense that an electrical safety program must make an established and verified electrically safe work condition a founding principle for which the program is based on. This is a lot to take in and can be a massive undertaking depending on the size and type of employer. For example, a “Big 3” auto maker's electrical safety program most likely took many months and many people to develop, whereas a coffee shop in the local strip mall might not require the same level of detail and procedures due to the nature of the work and the type of equipment involved. One employer might benefit from establishing an electrical safety committee that will handle the development, implementation, and auditing of the program. Others might have a committee of one. Each program is as unique as the employer who develops it. And since the electrical safety program is the document that protects an employer's most critical asset, an investment in time and money to establish, implement, and improve a program that is uniquely specific to an employer is worth every minute and every penny. So, if you or your employer does not have a program in place, it is time to stop everything and build one. Not only will it help save the lives of employees, but it is also the law.   Interested to learn more? My colleague, Corey Hannahs, wrote recently about electrical safety programs and the knowledge, application, and responsibility that must be shared by both employees and employers. Find additional information about the standard by visiting the NFPA 70E webpage.   As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Deadly Shortcuts: The Alarming Truth About Electrical Safety

Why is electrical safety in the workplace important? It's a great question to think about and discuss during National Electrical Safety Month. It is also kind of a loaded question. On the one hand you have the fact that providing electrical safety in the workplace is mandated by OSHA, and therefore, it is the law. On the other hand, there are many more reasons why it is important to talk about, learn about, and fully understand electrical safe work practices. While there may be different reasons for buying into this as an employer or an employee, the bottom line is, electrical safety must be one of our top priorities when stepping foot on the job.  So, let's look at what might motivate employers to implement electrical safe work practices within their company. As I said, OSHA mandates that an employer provide a workplace that is free from known and recognized hazards. This means an employer must develop and implement an electrical safety program that spells out the procedures to be followed to ensure that employees aren't exposed to electrical hazards, and if they must be, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk. The next important point for employers to remember is, it is far more cost effective to retain a good employee than to train a new one. Employees are a company's most important asset, especially if revenue is derived due to their labor. Losing an employee is like losing any other tangible asset. Then there is the most important reason of all: human life. Whether an employer is big or small, people know each other and no one wants to jeopardize his/her ability to go home the same way they came to work: in one piece.  So what about the employee? While it is true that the employer must provide the detailed procedures to follow and the tools and equipment needed to stay safe, none of it does any good if the employee doesn't follow the rules and use the tools. What might be an employee's motivation to follow safety protocols? Well, if an employee is caught not following the rules, they could incur fines for both themselves and their employer, leading to a personal financial impact and potential loss of employment. However, some employees might have what can only be described as an “invincibility” complex. I know I personally have been guilty of this in the past. We think that we won't get hurt and that other people were injured because they made a mistake. Unfortunately, that macho attitude is what gets people in trouble. Having studied and attended many educational sessions on the science behind behavior change, it seems to be that the traditional “shock and awe” approach only further exacerbates the issue. However, would we take those same risks and cut those same corners if we fully understood what the most important people in our lives would go through if we didn't come home today? Last year at NFPA's Conference & Expo I had a great opportunity to talk to my friend, Brandon Schroeder, about this very topic. Brandon has been an electrician for 19 years. In 2011, he survived an arc flash explosion that without a doubt could have killed him. To hear him speak about what his wife and children went through after the accident, and that they nearly had to continue on in life without him, makes even the most seasoned veteran think very carefully about his/her next move. Here is his story and his warning to everyone who thought they were invincible: It is easy to mandate that employers provide the tools and procedures related to electrical safety. It's the “low hanging fruit” in the safety world and it has brought the numbers of injuries and deaths down substantially. This is a fact that we should all be celebrating this month as we observe National Electrical Safety Month. The trickier task, however, is continuing to help employees believe in this stuff. As Brandon points out, he cut corners because he didn't think safety mattered. As professionals in the electrical world, we should all pursue the goal of getting everyone to take safety seriously. It's a big world, let's protect it together! Get additional information on NFPA's electrical solutions webpage. As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

New 2020 NEC Requirement Helps Keep First Responders Safe from Electrical Hazards During Emergencies

If we do some digging into the revision archives of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), we can pretty much trace every requirement to one thing: saving lives! That is why the NEC exists; its purpose, the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity. If there is a way that we can install the electrical system so that it is safe for the individuals who interact with it, we will. That has been the guiding light of code making panels for as long as the archived revision information for the NEC has been around. But what about when there is an emergency? Does the NEC contain requirements to keep the system safe during extenuating circumstances? Well, until recently there were not many requirements that would do this. After all, the purpose is the practical safeguarding, not safeguarding with every possible unforeseen event. However, does that mean there is nothing we can do at the installation stage that would help save a life in an emergency or unforeseen situation? Starting around the 2011 edition we saw the "safety by design" concept enter the NEC. That is when the requirement for arc energy reduction on large circuit breakers was implemented. Even though the NEC isn't about planning for disaster, IF we can install the equipment a certain way that will limit or mitigate the harm done to a person, people were starting to say, “well, maybe we should.” Then fast forward a bit and the question came up: “How can we install the system so that we can protect those who are responding to an emergency at that building?” In particular, people were looking at solar photovoltaic systems remaining energized even after the utility had cut the power during the response to a building on fire. In 2020, we now see the requirement to install a disconnect so that an emergency responder can disconnect power to the home instead of waiting for the utility to cut power. Recently, I wrote an article for IAEI Magazine that explored this very revision to require a disconnecting means on the outside of one- and two-family dwellings, as well as the ins and outs of how this requirement came to be in the newest version of the NEC. In addition, I did an interview with Matt Paiss and Kwame Cooper last year at NFPA's Conference & Expo. Mr. Paiss is the International Association of Fire Fighters representative on CMP-4, and Mr. Cooper is a member of the NFPA Board of Directors and retired fire fighter. IAFF and Mr. Paiss were instrumental in getting a requirement to help emergency response personnel stay safe. If you haven't seen it before, check out our video interview here: As the video interview points out, NFPA and the NEC exist to help eliminate the loss of life and property from electrical hazards, but ultimately, it really takes a group effort to make great things happen. For more information about the NEC, visit NFPA's electrical solutions webpage. As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Be “Home Smart” about Electrical Safety During National Electrical Safety Month

This year has started off with some pretty crazy headlines. Everywhere you turn, COVID-19 has taken over the news. But even with all the information we hear about staying safe from this deadly disease, we also should not forget about the importance of being safe around electricity. That's right, it's May 2020 and that means it's time once again for National Electrical Safety Month (NESM). An entire month where the focus is put on keeping people safe from the hazards that come from having a world powered by electrons flowing through conductors. This campaign, spearheaded by Electrical Safety Foundation International or ESFi, seeks to raise awareness and educate key stakeholders about what can be done to minimize the impact of electrically-related fires, property loss, injuries, and loss of life. This year's theme for NESM, “Smart Home,” focuses on the lifesaving devices that can be found throughout the home that help to keep us all safe and secure while being smart around electricity. Devices like ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs), and surge protective devices are just a few of the measures that are required by the National Electrical Code(NEC) in homes that have a direct and immediate impact on saving lives. GFCIs have been around for years as a way to prevent electrocution in our homes. AFCIs have evolved over the past few cycles as a way to protect our homes from the fire hazard that might be silently brewing behind the walls. More recently, we have seen the addition of tamper-resistant receptacles that prevent non-intended items from being inserted into a receptacle. This has been a major innovation, especially for parents, as children have been known to play with things that can fit in those slots in the wall. The need for all these important devices within our homes has evolved right along with our continued evolution of how we put electricity to work for us. When we first started adding electricity to our homes, the primary function was for lighting. Homes had a couple of branch circuits that served the entire building's lighting needs. But you know how the story goes, they figured out how to heat a home, then came the washing machine, and then the microwave, and so on. Electricity makes our lives easier, plain and simple. We can see this in the evolution of installation requirements. Surge protection, for one, is a new requirement for homes in the 2020 NEC. This comes about due to the fact that so much of the technology we use depends on sensitive electronic circuits that not only need protection from overcurrent, but also need protection from voltages that get too high. Surges can damage much of the equipment we use today in our homes and often it might be damaged in a way that could create a fire or shock hazard. The next frontier in keeping our loved ones safe from electricity is coming in the way the equipment interacts with the power itself. Equipment that is smart enough to recognize when something isn't right and before a problem can arise, it simply turns itself off. One such technology is what has been lumped under the category of Power over Ethernet, or PoE. Basically, PoE is equipment that utilizes communications cables to also power the device. By doing this, the equipment that needs the electricity is also smart enough to communicate with other devices on the network, including the power supply. Imagine an electrical system in your home that is physically unable to deliver a shock or start a fire. That would be the ultimate in electrical safety in our homes! Last year at NFPA's Conference & Expo I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with a few of the industry leaders on the front lines of making this dream a reality. Not only will the equipment do amazing things to make our lives even more enriched, but our world will become a heck of a lot safer in the process. While our focus for the month is on being smart with electricity in our homes, the future is evolving right before our very eyes; how safe our homes are from electrical hazards is being changed in a big way because of this evolution. It is critical that we continue to focus on the basics like GFCI, AFCI, TRRs, and surge protection, but it is also critical to keep our eyes on the horizon as we move forward. Using the very advancements in technology we crave to simultaneously make the system inherently safer is how we get to a world where homes burning down from electrical fires and people dying from electrocutions are a distant memory. After all, ever since we started powering homes, the race was on to make our lives less complicated. Not having to worry about electrical hazards in our daily lives will make us all sleep a little better at night knowing our loved ones are safe and sound. For more information, please visit NFPA' electrical safety webpage. As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus,please visit our website.

Handling PPE, COVID Threat While Being Exposed to Electrical Hazards

The past couple of months have seen a major shift in the way many of us are working. A global pandemic has shifted our idea of what “normal” means for our daily lives. For some, it means layoffs until we get through this thing. For others it means life goes on just as it did before, only now we're at risk of contracting a disease that for some could be fatal. Healthcare workers, emergency personnel, grocery store clerks, they all fall into the “essential work” category and must face this threat every day. There is also another group deemed essential – the men and women who service and build the infrastructure we all need in these unprecedented times. For example, what if the power supplying a major hospital treating COVID-19 patients were to go out and there were no linemen to bring the system back online? Without these essential workers, the infrastructure that those on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight depend on, would be in big trouble. In order to maintain critical systems and equipment, it often means these employees are being exposed to both COVID hazards and electrical hazards. As you can imagine, there have been many questions about this, such as: Can we wear N95 masks under arc flash PPE? Can we share PPE? Can PPE be disinfected? If so, what is the proper method for disinfecting PPE so it won't have an effect on arc rating or flame resistance? In these turbulent times we still want to make sure we're protecting employees and providing a workplace that is free from known and recognized hazards.Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with a good friend of mine who just happens to know a lot about arc flash PPE and the science behind it. Hugh Hoagland is the Senior consultant at ArcWear and E-Hazard and has been in the business of testing the limits of arc and flame resistance personal protective equipment for a long time. As it turns out, Hugh has done some testing on what happens to an N95 mask under an arc-flash face shield and the effects of certain disinfecting cleaners on the FR and AR ratings of these garments. Check out our conversation in the video below:  These are truly unprecedented times we are living in, and while no one has every answer, we do need to stay vigilant and put forth our best good-faith efforts to protect those who are keeping the world running. Even during all of this uncertainty, it's good to know there are tests being conducted and data being translated to help put our minds at ease as we suit up to help others in the name of safety.   Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep doing what we all do best. As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, pleasevisit our webpage.  NFPA has also provided a wide range of resources that support fully operational fire and life safety systems, while balancing the realities of the current pandemic. Our goal is to support you and your work during this difficult time. How can we continue to help? Take our short survey and tell us what you think.

Keeping Up with Electrical Safety Training in a World of Social Distancing

As of December 2019, our world has forever changed. A global pandemic has much of world in lockdown hoping to stem the spread of COVID-19 by practicing “social distancing.” Some of us have seen a reduction in our workload at the moment, while still others, who, in essential service roles, are putting themselves on the front lines every day working in hospitals, grocery stores, and other key service areas that depend on the work we do to help keep their facilities functioning. Wherever we may find ourselves during this time, there is something that weighs heavy on all of our minds: how do we keep ourselves and others safe while still improving upon our skills to help us do our very best work.   That's where training comes into play. Skilled professionals, whether they are on the front lines or at home, need continuing education, especially as many states are shifting to the new edition of the NEC. The need for quality training, the renewal of licenses and professional credentials - all of these things are vital to our jobs now and after this health crisis has lifted. But during these unprecedented times, social distancing is forcing us to find alternative options to meet our training needs. Training centers are shut down, trainers are cancelling classes, and many of us are confined to our living rooms. So, just like many public schools across the nation have done, it's time for us to explore online options. Today's online and distance learning landscape has taken on a new look and feel including the capability to incorporate hands-on learning techniques applied within a virtual environment. The implications of this type of learning for electrical safety training are very exciting. Now is a perfect time to refresh our skills with many of the online training options available like NFPA's Safe Electrical Work Practices online training series. This series utilizes a series of tasks in a virtual environment to provide simulated hands-on training for tasks like establishing an electrically safe work condition and performing voltage measurements. And on an important note: learners are not exposed to a hazard during the process. And, while self-paced, online learning is one option that can help keep skills honed and up-to-date while we get through this era of social distancing, we recognize that there are many learners who also need interaction with an instructor to help better understand a concept. As an instructor myself, I have always valued that one-on-one interaction in my classes with those who are active, engaged, and asking questions. So, what can we do to help in this situation? Distance learning is perfect for the current times we all are experiencing, and it might just turn out to be a better way of delivering the needed safety training to more people, more efficiently, and more safely. In fact, NFPA is currently exploring ways to deliver what has traditionally been an in-person seminar, through an interactive web-based presentation where attendees will be able to interact in real time with the instructor throughout the course. Having the ability to learn from afar while maintaining the quality of training that comes from being in the classroom with the subject matter expert, is, well, just fantastic, and I look forward to sharing more about this unique opportunity with you in the future. If history has taught us anything, it is that people can and will get through anything that comes their way. We will get through this, and we will be better off when we do. Those of us in the training world understand the need to adapt our delivery to meet the needs of our audiences, and the world's current state of affairs has surely brought that front and center. Trying new methods and exploring different ways to provide the needed training and information has become a new way of life in electrical safety. Electrical hazards don't shelter-in-place, so while we are all doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, we must still do whatever is needed to protect the world from what comes along with using electricity in our daily lives. But NFPA can't do this alone. Contact us to find out how we can help you meet your training needs while respecting social distancing guidelines. It's a big world, let's protect it together. As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

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