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A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: An authority having jurisdiction for a standard not adopted by law

Sorry that I have been away for some time, but 2020 was a year of challenges. I have been writing this blog mostly on a bi-weekly basis for four years. This is the first blog that will be published monthly. I hope you will continue to find the information and views beneficial in your continued effort to increase electrical safety in your workplace.

My last blog (October) pointed out that if a standard is adopted into law, it is a government agent who typically becomes the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). That blog also pointed out that although the NEC is typically mandated, there are many electrical installations not inspected by the government AHJ. Are there AHJs for a standard that is not legislated? NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® is such a standard. Product standards are another example. These standards contain requirements but do not have a government AHJ to enforce them. Who has the responsibility for verifying compliance with the requirements if these non-legislated standards are used?

The requirement to use NFPA 70E is often directed by an employer through their electrical safety program. Their purpose for using NFPA 70E is to help them meet federally mandated obligations to provide a workplace that is free from known electrical hazards. It is probable that the electrical safety program will fail if management directs that NFPA 70E be utilized without assigning AHJs. No one will develop safe work practices, no one will audit electrical safety practices or keep procedures current, no one will inspect in-house installations, and no one will train employees or verify their qualifications. You get the point. Most employees will not accept such responsibility on their own. Someone must be assigned these tasks but NFPA 70E often does not mention an AHJ. The overall enforcement (AHJ) for NFPA 70E is therefore the employer. It is their responsibility to establish, document, and implement the safety-related work practices and procedures required by NFPA 70E and to provide employees with training in safety related work practices and procedures. The CEO is not going to do this.

Upper management may require using NFPA 70E, but they are not the AHJ for specific requirements. They are not inspecting the daily condition of equipment, they are not evaluating safety procedures for establishing an electrically safe work condition, they are not verifying an employee’s method of donning of PPE, nor are they evaluating the qualifications and training of individual employees. If the employer mandates the use of NFPA 70E without addressing the necessary AHJs for the requirements, everything from the electrical safety program to unqualified persons and contract employees are at risk. As discussed in my blog, you are the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), everyone is an AHJ for NFPA 70E at some time. However, most employees will not accept the role without being notified by management that the AHJ responsibility is theirs.

NFPA 70E does not assign an AHJ for any requirement just as the often-mandated NEC does not assign an AHJ. Anyone can be assigned an AHJ for any standard or for any requirement contained in that standard. It is the employer’s responsibility to specify who the AHJ is for inhouse electrical installations, for PPE, for employee qualifications, for documented work procedures, for field audits, or any of the other items that need to be verified. An AHJ should be qualified to oversee their assigned responsibilities and must be knowledgeable of the requirements to determine compliance. The employer decides this just as they decide who is qualified to be hired for a position or perform any other task. The documented electrical safety program is a good place to assign the AHJs for what occurs in the facility. Even with a policy to follow NFPA 70E, there is no way to comply with it without an assigned AHJ. Are there AHJs at your facility?

Next time: Why is assigning an authority having jurisdiction so difficult?

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Christopher Coache
Senior Electrical Engineer

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