A better understanding of NFPA 70E: NFPA 70E audits

New equipment is added to a facility. Knowledge gained while working through an issue drives change in safety standards. Employees with different backgrounds and from different generations have dissimilar learning styles. Electrical safety is not a static field, it is more dynamic than often believed. How do you evaluate your electrical safety program? Training, procedures and practices involving electrical safety need to be periodically reviewed to not only stay current but to be effective. NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® contains many requirements which should be your starting point for auditing an electrical safety program (ESP).

The first place NFPA 70E requires an evaluation of an ESP is in 110.1(F). Controls are the company's electrical safety metrics for determining if the ESP is effective and efficient. In order to evaluate a system, you need to know where you started and how far you have come. Metrics are measurable points to determine performance. They also can be used to determine if improvements to the safety program are required and, if so, what needs to be changed. There are two common metrics used to determine the effectiveness of something: lagging metrics and leading metrics. Lagging metrics provide a reactive view of a safety program. Leading metrics are used to identify and correct contributing factors before an incident occurs. A combination of these metrics can enhance a safe work program.

Next in NFPA 70E, 110.1(K) covers necessary audits. Auditing and enforcement is a critical part of any electrical safety program. It is vital that the electrical safety program — as well as the auditing and enforcement actions — be documented for the benefit of the employees and of the company. The process control points and actions (i.e., the items capable of being measured) need to be determined for there to be effective auditing. An audit of the overall ESP (110.1(K)(1)) is necessary to ensure that program principles and procedures are kept current with changing situations.

Section 110.1(K)(2) addresses field audits. This involves going into the field — wherever employees are performing their required tasks and there is the potential of exposure to electrical hazards — to gather information. It is important to watch employees perform their electrical safety related tasks and ensure that they are using PPE appropriate for the task to be performed. When it has been confirmed that the ESP principles or procedures are not being followed, corrective action must be taken. The field audit should be used to confirm that all electrical hazards are addressed, and to evaluate any program and physical conditions that have changed. 

Lockout/tagout programs and procedures require auditing in 110.1(K)(3). The objective of the audit is to make sure that all requirements of the procedure are properly detailed and that employees are familiar with their responsibilities. The audit should determine whether the requirements contained in the procedure are sufficient to ensure that the electrical energy is satisfactorily controlled. The audit must ensure that the lockout/tagout procedure is effective and is being properly implemented.

There are several other requirements for audits and supervision in NFPA 70E. Any audit should identify and correct deficiencies in the procedure, employee training, or enforcement. Corrective actions could consist of either modification of the training program or a revision to the procedures, such as increasing the frequency of training. Audits and metrics should measure program effectiveness as well as be used for developing program improvement. Audits should evaluate incidents to determine any necessary change to the ESP. An ESP should not be developed then placed on the shelf as a job well done. Electrical safety in the workplace is not the same as it was 10 years ago. How are you protecting employees with the best ESP possible?

Next time: Is there a way to increase electrical safety for workers in the future.

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Christopher Coache
Senior Electrical Engineer

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