Year End Wrap Up: Performing an Electrical Safety Program Audit to Help Protect Employees in the New Year
As we enter this time of year where reflection seems to be on everyone’s mind, it seems fitting to take a look at what that might mean for electrical safety. After all, many of us work in a field where electrical hazards often present a very real danger that we might not make another family Thanksgiving dinner or another company holiday party. However, someone had our best interests in mind when they put together a plan aimed at making sure that we not only make it to the next big family get together, but that we make it home at the end of every day. And that certainly is something to be thankful for this time of year.
However, does that electrical safety program continue to protect employees year after year without any checks and balances by the authors? NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® actually requires that an electrical safety program get audited and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the program is still in alignment with applicable safety requirements. It is this auditing that helps a company continuously improve their electrical safety program. By reviewing the year in safety, we can see where additional safety measures need to be implemented and reinforce the existing measures that have served us well.
So, what exactly are the auditing requirements that can be found in NFPA 70E? Well, for starters we can find the requirements for auditing the electrical safety program in section 110.5(M). This section requires that an electrical safety program that is based on NFPA 70E be reviewed to ensure that it is still in alignment with requirements found in the standard. This auditing is something that must take place at intervals not to exceed three years. This corresponds to the revision cycle timeframe of NFPA 70E and as requirements change within the document, we need to be making the corresponding changes to our electrical safety program.
Next, field work audits are also required to be performed to verify that the procedures within the electrical safety program are being followed in practices in the field. Field audits are something that must be performed on a yearly basis. If these audits find that either the procedures are inadequate to protect employees or that employees are simply not following them, then steps must be taken by the employer to adjust the program policies and procedures in a way that will lead to better procedures and more buy-in from the workers. Keep in mind that just about anything that affects or has to do with electrical safety in the workplace is also going to be required to be documented. Consulting documentation about incident investigations and near-misses can markedly improve an employer’s ability to assess whether the electrical safety program is successfully providing for the safe work environment employers must provide their employees.
Another required audit that must be performed is on the employer’s lockout/tagout (LOTO) program. This audit must also take place on a yearly basis and has certain aspects that it must cover. The LOTO program audit must identify and correct any deficiencies found in the program and procedures. The audit must also look at the LOTO training program to verify that the training is adequate to train employees on the proper methods for controlling hazardous energy. One way this becomes obvious is when the audit is performed on the worker execution of a procedure. Therefore, the LOTO program audit must be performed to cover at least one lockout/tagout procedure in progress. After all what better way to see if the workers have been trained on proper procedures and the training is effective than to observe the way that they apply the requirements?
Keep in mind that all efforts made by an employer to audit all of these programs is going to need to be documented. This is important as it aids in the employer’s ability to track the effectiveness and improvement of the program over time. Also, should the need arise to show proof that the program is being audited regularly, then those records will be available. In addition to auditing the procedures within an electrical safety program, we also want to make sure that we are auditing other critical safety measures that are required to be maintained and accurate. Some examples of this are equipment labeling required by NFPA 70E. As the owner of the electrical equipment containing such a label, a facility must make sure that any labels that state information such as available fault current or incident energy level be verified to still be accurate. If these labels are found to be inaccurate, or if the system changes in a manner that renders them inaccurate, they must be updated. This information about labels must be reviewed at least every five years to ensure they are still applicable. However, keep in mind that if nothing has changed that would warrant the need for new labels, existing labels that followed previous editions of NFPA 70E are not required to be changed or updated until they are found to be inaccurate.
Electrical safety is a fluid process. It seems like every time we feel as though we have it all figured out, something pops up that teaches us just how much we have yet to learn. By reflecting on what went well and what maybe didn’t go so well, we can look back on the year and identify the learning opportunities and reinforce our strong suits. And as we look back on the year that has been 2020, even though I think we would all rather not, hopefully the bright shining star we see in our rear-view mirror is that we all had a safe and productive year in safety.
Even with a year marked with successful job outcomes, there will always be some hiccups, as we know. But by learning from our mistakes we can use these lessons to prepare for the following year ahead. Now’s the time to get our safety plans into good shape and step into 2021 with safe work practices that work. It’s a big world; let’s protect it, ourselves, and each other and make the new year a successful one for all.
Learn more about NFPA 70E and find related resources by visiting the NFPA 70E electrical solutions webpage.