A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Impending Equipment Failure

How do you know if equipment is ready to fail? What are signs of impending failure? Who should know what the signs of impending failure are for a piece of equipment? NFPA 70E®,Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® requires that before you operate a piece of electrical equipment that you confirm that the normal operating conditions have been met. You are put at risk of injury if any one of those conditions is suspect. I have written several blogs covering the subject and the impending failure condition confuses many people.

Typically the employer/owner is not aware of the daily condition of individual equipment in their facility. This means that the unqualified person operating the electrical equipment must be trained to recognize an impending failure since conditions can change on a daily basis. The electrical safety training provided should include recognizing potential failure modes and identifying signs of impending equipment failure. This is true whether the equipment that the employee operates is portable and cord-and-plug connected or a section of a large assembly line. However, the signs of impending failure vary greatly by the type of electrical equipment.

<>The smell of ozone, presence of smoke, and sound of arcing are all possible indications of potential equipment failure. Damage or discoloration of the power cord could be a sign for the portable equipment. A tripped circuit breaker or operation of a ground-fault circuit-interrupter could be another sign. For the assembly line equipment there may be warning lights or alarms. A controller may shutdown to prevent damage and should not be routinely reset. Without proper training to understand such things the employee may not recognize the risk of an injury while operating the equipment.

Electrical safety is not just for qualified persons and involves a lot more than donning PPE. Federal law mandates that an employer provide a workplace that is free from known hazards. An employee operating equipment that is exhibiting signs of impending failure is placed at risk of injury due to electrical hazards. It is only proper training that prevents an injury in that circumstance. Does your electrical safety training for unqualified persons include this important aspect? If you are the employee, do you know how to recognize a potential equipment failure that could prevent you from returning home today?

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Next time: On July 16- 18, I will be in Indianapolis for the NFPA 70E meeting and the week after for the NFPA 72 meeting so this will be my only blog for the month of July. I will post something about that meeting in my August blog.

Please Note: Any comments, suggested text changes, or technical issues related to NFPA Standards posted or raised in this communication are not submissions to the NFPA standards development process and therefore will not be considered by the technical committee(s) responsible for NFPA Standards development.  To learn how to participate in the NFPA standards development process and submit proposed text for consideration by the responsible technical committee(s), please go to www.nfpa.org/submitpi for instructions.

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Christopher Coache
Senior Electrical Engineer

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