All signs point to required labeling as a major ally in the pursuit of safety of those performing electrical work
“…do this, don’t do that – can’t you read the sign?” The year was 1971 and I certainly find some irony in the fact that the original band to perform this well-known ditty was dubbed as the Five Man Electrical Band. If you listen to the lyrics of the song, it doesn’t necessarily portray signs in the best light (see what I did there?). The songwriter depicts signs as being controlling and limiting to individuals who may look or act different than what may be considered the norm. For someone who is looking for unlimited freedom to do whatever they choose, signs can certainly be seen as restrictive and unnecessary. But when it comes to ensuring the safety of individuals working around electricity, signs can be a critical factor in determining life, or death.
NFPA 70©, National Electrical Code© (NEC©), and NFPA 70E© Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace© are two of the three components that are crucial to the electrical Cycle of Safety, with NFPA 70B,© Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance© being the third. While the purpose of the NEC is to safeguard persons and property from hazards that may arise from the use of electricity, NFPA 70E provides enforceable responsibilities for both employers and employees to protect employees against electrical hazards to which employees might be exposed. So, while the focus of the NEC is on safe installations, NFPA 70E exists to help ensure that the installation is done safely by the individual(s) performing the work. With that said, it becomes easier to see how the NEC and NFPA 70E must be applied together in harmony to ensure the safety of both people and property within any given scenario dealing with electricity.
Signs, or “labeling” as they are often referenced, can be seen regularly within the NEC as well as NFPA 70E. NEC section 110.16(B) deals specifically with labeling of service equipment rated at 1200 amps or more, maintaining that the label itself must meet the requirements of NEC section 110.21(B), which deals with label design, affixation, and durability. As well as containing the following information:
- Nominal system voltage
- Available fault current at the service overcurrent protective devices
- The clearing time of service overcurrent protective devices based on the available fault current at the service equipment
- The date the label was applied
The exception within NEC section 110.16(B) states that “service equipment labeling shall not be required if an arc flash label is applied in accordance with acceptable industry practice.” Such accepted industry practice arc flash labeling practices reside within NFPA 70E. As a means of tying the NEC installation requirements back into NFPA 70E, Informational Note No. 3 within NEC section 110.16(B) goes on to note that NFPA 70E as covering labeling information stating that “Acceptable industry practices for equipment labeling are described in the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E. This standard provides specific criteria for developing arc-flash labels for equipment that provides nominal system voltage, incident energy levels, arc-flash boundaries, minimum required levels of personal protective equipment, and so forth.” So, you may be asking yourself, where does the information (we are talking about here as being listed on the labeling) come into play as far as safety? Much of this information can be utilized for risk assessment as well as personal protection equipment (PPE) selection, should we get to that level as we work our way through the Hierarchy of Risk Control Methods as listed within NFPA 70E section 110.5(H)(3). Understanding the known risk(s) and having the information needed to make a well-educated decision, including choosing proper PPE when deemed necessary. This required labeling, as applied by intertwining both the NEC and NFPA 70E, can now be viewed as a major ally in helping ensure the safety of those performing electrical work. Knowledge is power. Empower your ability to remain safe by learning more.
You can find additional resources and information about this topic by visiting the NFPA’s electrical solutions webpage. NFPA also offers 2021 NFPA 70E online training, which features interactive content, including scenarios, videos, and animated images to help you understand core concepts and strategies related to workplace electrical safety. Visit the training webpage to learn more.