Topic: Electrical

Amazon Solar Shutdown Provides Opportunity for Praise and Reflection on Safe Solar Installations

According to recent reports from CNBC and other major news outlets, Amazon temporarily shut down all solar power generation at their North American facilities last year as they worked to investigate potential fire safety issues with these systems. While the details of what Amazon found in their investigations during the shutdown are unspecified and therefore can’t be expounded upon, knowing that Amazon recognized a compounding problem and made safety paramount by shutting down their solar generation at 47 North American sites should be commended. Although there was significant financial loss to Amazon by moving forward with the shutdown and launching the investigation, making the decision to do so aligned with the principles established by the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™—specifically, the company chose to make an Investment in Safety. The NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem is a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. There are eight key components in the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. These components are interdependent. When they work together, the Ecosystem protects everyone. If any component is missing or broken, the Ecosystem can collapse, often resulting in tragedy. Almost always we can trace the cause of fire and life safety tragedies back to the breakdown of one or more components. Aside from the aforementioned Investment in Safety, there are several other key areas of the Ecosystem that apply to safe solar installations. Codes, compliance, and skilled workers With a technology that is constantly changing like solar photovoltaic (PV) power, using the most current codes is critical for a safe installation. Within the Ecosystem, this would fall under the Development and Use of Current Codes component. As an example, NFPA 70,® National Electrical Code® (NEC®), covers the installation of PV systems in Article 690, including the array circuit(s), inverter(s), and controller(s) for such systems. Article 691 covers large-scale PV electric supply stations not under exclusive utility control, such as privately owned solar farms. Yet many areas of the country do not use the most current edition of the NEC, with some areas using editions dating back as far as 2008. That is a 15-year difference between the most current NEC and some of the oldest versions being used. As can be expected, there have been significant changes in product development and safe solar installation requirements over those years. For instance, rapid shutdown is a means of solar equipment reducing the potential for electric shock within 30 seconds of activation of shutdown, intended to raise the level of safety for firefighters that are responding to potential solar array fires. Rapid shutdown was introduced in the 2014 cycle of the NEC so anyone utilizing prior editions would not be providing this level of safety for first responders. This is a clear example of why it is so important to utilize the most current codes for solar installations in order to achieve maximum safety.   Fortunately, even for jurisdictions that are lagging behind in the use of the most recent codes, professionals can choose to take trainings on more recent editions. The NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC) (2020) Online Training Series, for example, provides trainees with key information and interactive exercises on the 2020 edition of the NEC. With the 2023 NEC having just taken effect September 1, be on the lookout for forthcoming training based on that version of the NEC.   Another area of the Ecosystem that is necessary for a safe solar installations is Code Compliance. The only way to truly ensure a safe installation is by verifying it through effective code enforcement. Those tasked with inspecting solar installations for safety must consider everything involved while reviewing the systems. NEC requirements as well as manufacturer installation requirements are critical items that must be met. It is also important to remember that code compliance does not end with the initial installation of the system. Any time a solar installation gets updated or modified, it is just as important to have that system reviewed again for continued compliance with the necessary codes as it was to have it inspected in the first place. The individuals that perform the solar installation matter as well. The Ecosystem requires a Skilled Workforce in order to ensure safe installations. Those that are considered skilled are aware of the most current codes and know how to apply them to the installation. They have been trained to properly handle, install, and maintain the equipment that is involved. From an enforcement standpoint, the NEC takes skill a step further by requiring that only qualified persons perform the installation of solar equipment, associated wiring, and interconnections. By definition within the NEC, a qualified person has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. One critical way a Skilled Workforce can be created is through training programs like the ones offered by NFPA. The Photovoltaic and Energy Storage Systems Online Training Series, for example, is a four-part online program that covers topics that can assist with design, installation, maintenance, and inspection requirements for PV and energy storage systems. The training educates users on relevant code requirements for PV systems and ESS not just within the NEC, but also within other leading codes including NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 855, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems, NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®, and others. When it comes to safe installations of solar power it is critical that we play offense, instead of defense. Choosing to be proactive by ensuring safe installations that align with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem up front will prevent the need for reactive decisions to correct any potential problems down the line. In the United States alone, solar power capacity has grown from approximately 0.34 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 97.2 gigawatts today. With no slowing down in sight, it is critical that those involved in performing solar installations and maintenance are doing so with safety as an important and necessary part of the process. Learn more about all of NFPA’s resources on PV and energy storage systems at nfpa.org/ess.

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 6 - Inspections)

NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® has requirements for what should be included in an electrical safety program (ESP) but does not provide details. The requirement in Section 110.5(B) to inspect electrical equipment is one where it is the employer’s responsibility to fill in the gaps. A properly documented ESP does not exist until that has been accomplished. The policies and procedures in your ESP are what employees must be trained to follow. The ESP must address the inspection of newly installed or modified equipment. Does your ESP have a way to assign this responsibility? A newly hired, residential electrician may not be the appropriate inspector for a smelting facility. The local electrical inspector often does not inspect equipment that falls under NFPA 70E. Equipment is installed, maintained, repaired, and replaced by an employee or an outside contractor. The responsible person will need to not only determine that an installation meets the applicable manufacturer requirements but also those of applicable standards. This is not limited to electrical standards since things like improperly installed pressure systems in electrical equipment may affect safety. What are the ESP policies and procedures for these inspections? An ESP that requires that equipment be verified as complying with the NEC is not enough. Electrical system and equipment compliance with the NEC is often only determined during building construction. The NEC does not address maintenance nor is internal electrical circuits part of the NEC. However, technicians maintaining motor control equipment must know the applicable NEC requirements. A contracted HVAC technician may be required to provide documentation that their work complies with applicable standards and codes, as well as the facilities requirements. Is their work inspected by a facility employee? Who is authorized to inspect repairs on custom production line equipment? It might not be desirable for the employee performing the work to also perform the inspection. The ESP must address not only these issues but also the training of the employee conducting inspections. The ESP might permit some types of electrical work to be completed without additional inspection. Do employees know which specific equipment is permitted to be energized before or without the additional inspection? A contractor may not follow the same safety protocol. Perhaps, it is not the equipment but the task that directs an inspection before energization. The ESP must address how to document all of this and what is to happen with the results. A requirement for the inspector to evaluate alternate installation methods may provide a means to mitigate hazards or repeated exposures. However, this most likely will not happen without a statement to do so in the ESP.  Proper installation, repair, and modification of electrical equipment play a major role in protecting every employee from electrical hazards. Inspection to determine that fact is a requirement in NFPA 70E. NFPA 70E is a safe work practice standard that is not appropriate to be used as the procedure for equipment inspection. It is critical to train an employee on inspection policies and procedures contained in the documented ESP.
A stormy sky

September is National Preparedness Month: Is Your Community Ready to Respond to a Severe Weather Event or Emergency?

While the warmer months of the year signal a time when we can indulge in vacations, beach days, and outdoor activities, the summer and fall are also when hurricanes, thunderstorms, wildfires, and other potential natural disasters make their impressive mark across many areas of the United States, often disrupting the rhythm of our daily lives. According to the National Hurricane Center, four systems are currently forming in the Atlantic: Hurricane Earl, expected to impact Bermuda in the coming days, Hurricane Danielle, and two tropical waves. Recent heavy rainfall in Rhode Island, Georgia, and Indiana caused deadly flash floods and thousands of power outages. Out West, excessive heat warnings and heat advisories are in effect across California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, prompting red flag warnings and the potential for more extreme fire behavior. Hurricane season began June 1 and ends in late November, but according to the National Weather Service, most storms peak in mid-September and October. And it’s not just hurricanes or wildfires that make the news; the Plains and Great Lakes regions often start their battle with freezing conditions and snowfall during the fall months, too. Ready, a national public service campaign, has earmarked September as National Preparedness Month and urges those of us tasked with protecting people and property from fire, electrical, and related hazards, to work together, help educate, and empower the public to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies before they become tragedies. The theme for this year’s campaign, “A Lasting Legacy,” reminds us that the life we’ve built is worth protecting. Preparing and planning ahead of disasters help keep families safe during emergencies and long after an event has passed. NFPA® has a wealth of information to help guide building owners and facility managers, first responders, health care facility managers, electrical professionals, and public educators, as they prepare ahead of weather events in their area and work closely with communities to develop emergency plans. These resources are free and can be easily shared. For facility managers and business owners: For answers to bigger emergency planning challenges and questions, NFPA 1600®, Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management, is a vital guide for the development, implementation, assessment, and maintenance of disaster/emergency management and continuity of operations programs. Business owners can also utilize the NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist, which helps people identify where to focus their emergency preparedness efforts. With the peak of hurricane and wildfire seasons upon us, government agencies and aid organizations may need to shelter potentially thousands of storm and fire evacuees. A recent episode of the NFPA Podcast, Disaster Planning During a Pandemic, introduces two emergency management experts who share lessons learned from responding to past incidents during the pandemic, including several new strategies that will likely remain in place long after the pandemic is over. For first responders: First responders face many hazards when working with vehicles that have been submerged in water, particularly with hybrid or electrical vehicles. The Submerged Hybrid/Electrical Vehicle Bulletin from NFPA breaks down the safety issues to help keep first responders safe when working in flooded areas. A free toolkit is also available for first responders, which provides the information and resources needed to help local residents prepare ahead of weather events. For electrical professionals: Electrical professionals are often tasked with equipment maintenance for electrical, electronic, and communication systems and equipment found in multifamily residential complexes, industrial plants, and commercial buildings to prevent equipment failures and worker injuries. The NFPA Natural Disaster Electrical Equipment Checklist builds off recommendations in Chapter 32 of the 2019 edition of NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, and provides a useful framework for recovering electrical equipment and systems after a disaster. For health care providers: New criteria require health care providers to have extensive plans in place for numerous types of events including hurricanes as part of an emergency preparedness rule passed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in November 2017. Requirements for emergency and backup power supplies as well as consideration of other logistical needs for long-duration events are an important part of the rule. Find information that can help medical providers with their emergency preparedness needs. In September 2019, an NFPA white paper was introduced to help health care facilities meet the requirements of the CMS emergency preparedness rule. For the public: A fact sheet and related information provide residents and businesses with easy wildfire risk reduction steps they can do around their homes and buildings to make them safer from wildfire and blowing embers. An escape plan activity sheet helps families prepare and practice an escape plan in case of a fire in the home. An emergency supplies kit checklist provides a list of items a family may need in case of an evacuation due to an emergency weather event. A tip sheet provides the facts and steps homeowners can take to safely use portable generators in the event homes lose power after a storm. With so much severe weather happening across the country, the time to start preparing communities is now. Make Preparedness Month the jump start you need to put plans in place. For these and other related information sources, visit the NFPA emergency preparedness webpage.

Now Issued, We Thank Those That Brought the 2023 NEC to the Top of the Mountain

It’s been a long climb to the top, but we made it – together! The NFPA Standards Council has voted to issue the 2023 National Electrical Code® (NEC®) with an effective date of September 1, 2022. With a pandemic overarching most of this revision cycle, we faced challenges never before seen in working through the NFPA Standards Development Process to create the 2023 NEC. A very special thanks goes out to the public for their valuable inputs and comments, the countless volunteer committee members for sharing their valuable time and knowledge, and NFPA staff for all of their hard work of governing the process and keeping everything on task through the challenges brought about by the pandemic. This truly has been an NEC cycle like none we have ever seen before. While there were new challenges along the way, it never delayed the development process which is rather inconceivable considering the way the world was being impacted by the pandemic. Not only did it not slow down, but it also increased. Every actionable item of the NFPA Standards Development Process increased in the 2023 NEC cycle versus the 2020 NEC cycle including: Public Inputs (PIs), First Revisions (FRs), First Correlating Revisions (FCRs), Correlating Notes (CNs), Public Comments (PCs), Second Revisions (SRs), Second Correlating Revisions (SCRs), and Certified Amending Motions (CAMs). After two years of not having our annual NFPA Conference & Expo in-person, 2022 allowed us to finally all get beck together in Boston for C&E in June where the Technical Meeting was held. During the meeting, the 55 CAMs for the 2023 NEC were presented and most were debated by membership on the meeting floor. The only CAMs that were not debated were those that were not pursued by the submitter, often due to the results of a previously debated CAM around the same topic failing to get the necessary votes from membership. In early August, the NFPA Standards Council heard fourteen appeals related to the 2023 NEC, which after the voting of the Council resulted in 18 amendments and four concurrently issuing Tentative Interim Amendments (TIAs). Some of the topics of the appeals that were heard dealt with optical fiber cable, copper-clad aluminum wiring, surge protection devices, GFCI protection, and swimming pool bonding. After all was considered, the preliminary minutes for the NFPA Standards Council Meeting concluded that the Council set an issuance date for the 2023 NEC as August 12, 2022, and the aforementioned effective date as September 1, 2022.   After the thrill of climbing the mountain, and all that was overcome, every good climber sticks a flag in the ground to celebrate their accomplishments. The mountain that we all climbed to reach the pinnacle of the 2023 NEC should be commemorated as well. Our distinctive flag in the ground for the 2023 NEC comes by way of NFPA LiNK®, which is NFPA’s digital access to codes and standards, plus so much more. All previous NEC code cycles always had a delay between when it was issued and when it was available due to the time it took for printing, but the 2023 NEC will be different. The 2023 NEC will become available in NFPA LiNK® on September 1, 2022. That’s right, if you are a subscriber to NFPA LiNK®, the 2023 NEC will be available to you on the same day that it becomes effective. For individuals that still prefer the book version of the NEC, the softbound, spiral, and handbook versions are available for preorder now and will become available this fall. The best view always comes when you reach the peak of the mountain. From what I can see, our ability to make electrical installations around the world safer just improved with the addition of the 2023 NEC. A very special thank you goes out to all of you that helped us to climb the mountain! For more information on the features of NFPA LiNK®, including access to a 14-day risk-free trial for all new users, please visit www.nfpa.org/LiNK.
A generator

Electrical Inspectors and Generators for Existing Dwellings

What is a generator and how do we inspect it on a residential application? Simply put, a generator is composed of two main parts, a prime mover, and an alternating-current or direct-current motor. The prime mover spins the motor causing an electromagnetic field to be induced onto the magnetic pole(s) of the motor. The number of poles the motor has, determines what the generator produces such as, single-, two-, or three-phase power. This is a very simple explanation. The generators can be permanently connected or portable. As inspectors we normally will not be looking at the internals of a generator since most are a permanently connected listed piece of equipment. Some gen sets use a combustion engine for prime mover or possibly a wind turbine, which could be fueled by natural gas or liquified petroleum gas (LPG). For this blog, we will discuss a permanently installed combustion engine type generator set being added to an existing residential dwelling. These installations are referred to in the NEC as optional standby systems and covered under article 702. The rating of most residential generators is not typically over 22 kilowatts (KW) and may be considered a gas fired appliance by the mechanical code. Frequently these installations require more than one inspector. When I was inspecting in the field, one of the initial items I requested was the installation instructions for the unit. This would provide additional information like clearances from buildings, windows, or doors, as well as specific wiring requirements. After proper clearances were verified, I would look for the disconnecting means required by the 2020 National Electrical Code® (NEC®), section 445.18 and they are: Emergency shutdown of prime mover – this disconnecting means is designed to disable the prime mover from inadvertently starting again and requires a mechanical reset to reengage the prime mover Remote emergency shutdown – this disconnecting means is applicable to generators over 15 KW rating and is located outside of the generator enclosure or equipment room, so this may affect larger one- or two-family dwellings. Emergency shutdown in one- and two-family dwelling units – this disconnecting means is for any generator at a one- or two-family dwelling and must be outside the dwelling in a readily accessible location. These disconnecting means should not be confused with the transfer switch, or the overcurrent protective device located within the generator housing for the feeder conductors running to the transfer switch. Being somewhat familiar with other codes I would frequently ask the installer or owner if they had contacted the utility company to determine if the current gas meter or regulator was sufficiently sized to handle the increased gas consumption created by the generator. Often, they had not. This may not seem important but asking this question may have saved them from being without the generator or heat when it was needed. Gas meters and regulators are typically sized for a specific cubic feet per minute flow at the time of installation, based on the amount of British Thermal Units (BTUs) required by the appliances in the dwelling. By adding additional BTUs to an existing gas meter without being upgraded could mean the gas fired appliances will not have sufficient gas flow to function properly. Inspectors asking questions, even when it is not within the area of your expertise, can almost always help avoid future problems for the customer. Moving to the transfer switch, I would determine if there was as an integral main overcurrent protective device (OCPD) and then inspect clearances around the switch. When a transfer switch contains an OCPD it frequently means the switch is an automatic transfer switch and is the service disconnecting means. For our scenario this is the case. I then would request a load calculation or provisions to automatically manage the load, sometimes called “load shedding.” Once that information was gathered, I would verify that the switch had a “suitable for use as service equipment” (SUSE) label, and that it had proper capacity, ratings, listing, and labeling. Since the transfer switch is the service disconnect it may also be serving as the emergency disconnect required in the 2020 NEC, section 230.85. Because the transfer switch is being used for both the service disconnect and the emergency disconnect, it must be marked as: EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, SERVICE DISCONNECT. Those markings should be on the exterior of the enclosure and comply with section 110.21(B). Adding emergency disconnects to the exterior of a dwelling is a way that the NEC allows first responders to safely disconnect all power within the structure, which will save time and lives in the event of a fire. Within the automatic transfer switch, I would also be verifying conductor sizes from meter, generator, grounding electrodes and new feeder to the old service panel as well as properly torqued terminations. The old service panel, typically inside the dwelling, new or existing, now has feeder conductors providing it with power instead of service conductors. Therefore, all neutral conductors must terminate on separate terminal bars from the equipment grounding conductors and the main bonding jumper between the neutral conductor and the panel enclosure must be removed if the panel is existing. If everything checks out, then I would have the installer initiate a power outage scenario to make sure all systems were functioning properly. This was not an overly deep dive into residential generator and optional standby system inspections, but a good overview of what to look for when conducting them. When on the job do not be afraid to ask questions; they can often lead to the discovery of a potential problem. Catching such issues early in the process allows us to readily address and fix the problem before it has the potential to harm us and others. To learn more about this and other related topics, go to the NFPA electrical inspection webpage and join us on NFPA Xchange where you can collaborate with other industry professionals, ask questions, and network with like-minded individuals We look forward to hearing from you!

Proper Use of Ladders on Jobsites Can Help Workers to Mitigate Personal Risk

Jobsites are a hazardous place on their own accord. That is before we start adding people, and their associated decision making, into the equation, which has the potential to make the jobsite even more dangerous. Add in working on or around electricity and the risks can compound even more. With so many things that can be out of our control on jobsites, such as someone making a decision that puts another person in harm’s way, we would be foolish to not mitigate risk by controlling the things that we can control. One thing that we can control individually on the job is ladder usage. Ladders are typically handled by a single person, which makes him/her solely responsible for how safely they use one. Aside from maintaining personal safety, proper ladder use is also necessary to avoid any potential citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which may result in financial penalties. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that by far the two highest categories of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020 were “Installation, maintenance, and repair” and “Construction and extraction.” Combined, these two categories totaled more than 11,000 injuries, resulting in at least one day away from work, which was over 49 percent of the total number of nonfatal ladder injuries in 2020. It is important to note that this data is based on the recorded injuries and does not incorporate any other ladder injuries that may have gone as undocumented. While it could be argued that construction and maintenance workers use ladders more than other occupations, making injury a higher probability, a counterpoint could also be made that individuals working in construction and maintenance should also have a better understanding of how to use ladders based on their experience and training. While the user is responsible for their own safety while using the ladder, employers have the responsibility of making sure that the employee is properly trained to do so. There are several key areas that should be considered when using a ladder on the jobsite, to help mitigate any associated safety risks. The most common ladders used on the jobsite are typically stepladders and extension ladders. Each ladder should be utilized in the capacity that it was designed for. As an example, it can be common for workers to lean a stepladder against a wall to perform their work however stepladders were not designed for this use, as they are required to have the metal spreaders built into the ladder in the fully extended, locked position prior to using the ladder. If a stepladder is leaned against a wall, essentially being used as a single ladder, it is not possible to have the metal arms extended as required. This is an example of where it is necessary to choose the proper ladder for the specific task and then use it correctly. Another common misuse of ladders on the job is standing on the top of a ladder that is not designed for the purpose. Ladder manufacturers put clear labels on ladders that specifically tell you not to stand above a certain point on the ladder, which should be strictly adhered to. Ladders are also rated for specific loads, that should not be exceeded, due to the potential for the ladder buckling because of overloading. When considering the load that will be imposed on the ladder, users should consider both their personal bodyweight but also the weight of any additional tools or materials that the will be carrying up the ladder. Another key consideration for selecting the proper ladder is the material that the ladder is made from. The sheer nature of an electrician working with electricity while using a ladder makes it clear that a conductive aluminum ladder is not a good choice for their line of work. But what about a painter that is working near a power line? A metal ladder is not a good choice in that application either. Choosing the proper ladder for the proper task and environment, and using it properly, is a key first step in ladder injury prevention. Ladders should always be visually checked before each use. Due to improper usage, ladders that were visually checked and okay for use this morning, may not be okay in the afternoon. For example, if someone were to stand on one of the supports of a ladder that does fully rated steps on the backside, the supports could become damaging making the ladder unsafe for use. When performing visual inspections on ladders, some key areas to check are: Structural damage Split or bent side rails Missing or damaged steps and spreaders Grease, dirt, or other contaminants that could cause a slip or fall While climbing or descending a ladder, it is also critical to maintain 3-points of contact at all times. This can be accomplished by maintaining two hands and one foot or by one hand and two feet. Ensuring that 3-points of contact are maintained at all times will limit any potential imbalance on the ladder that could result in a devastating fall injury. Falls from ladders are likely to have attributed to many of the 161 fatal ladder injuries that were reported in 2020. Even a fall from a relatively low height can prove to be deadly if an individual were to hit their head or fall on a sharp object below. Continuing to maintain 3-points of contact whenever climbing or descending a ladder will help workers to remain safe and avoid becoming a statistic. Personal safety is just that – personal. Deciding to use a ladder, or not to use a ladder, along with the how the ladder is utilized while working, is a personal decision. For those of us who work on construction jobsites every day, the activities by others on the job that we cannot control already puts our wellbeing and lives at risk. So, why wouldn’t we want to control the things we can to help mitigate any additional risk, such as utilizing ladders safely? It is a sure guarantee that the BLS will produce a ladder injury report next year and every year that follows, but we can all play a key role in whether those numbers are climbing up the ladder or down the ladder. I hope to see you all safely at ground level. For more information on how NFPA can help electrical professionals to stay safe on the jobsite, please visit our Electrical Safety Solutions page.
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