A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: What Makes Someone an Authority Having Jurisdiction.

The concept of an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has been in safety standards for a very long time. It is important that the persons using a standard understand what is required in order to determine compliance with the standard. NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®  and all other NFPA standards define an AHJ as an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure. An AHJ need not be a government employee. I have written about the AHJ for NFPA 70E in previous blogs, presentations and in the NFPA 70E handbook. Based on the questions I receive; it seems as if many do not understand how to enforce the requirements of a standard. Any standard that contains requirements must be applied by someone and someone must verify that the requirements have been correctly applied. The person verifying that the requirements have been correctly applied is the AHJ.

Standards can be required by a governmental body often through legislation. The National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is an example of such a standard. Many states, counties, cities and towns require that all electrical installations comply with the NEC. Typically, the government requires a permit before installation and an inspection by a government electrical inspector to verify compliance with the NEC. This government inspector is the AHJ for these initial electrical installations.

In a commercial or industrial facility, subsequent installation of electrical equipment or modification of the distribution system is often not done under a government permit nor is this inspected by the government AHJ. In residences, it is not uncommon for the permitted and inspected initial electricalsystem to be modified or additional equipment added without the government inspection. The NEC assigns the responsibility for making interpretations of the rules, for deciding on the approval of equipment and materials, and for granting the special permission contemplated in several rules to an AHJ regardless of when an electrical installation takes place.

Does your management invite a government AHJ to inspect and approve the installation of a new subpanel, the move of a production line, the retrofit for a breakroom, the extension of a circuit, or the addition of a backup generator in your facility? Frequently, that is not the case. If a government electrical inspector is not invited, is it still necessary to verify compliance with the NEC requirements? It would be unexpected to find someone who believes the NEC requirements could be ignored. If the requirements can't be ignored, someone must determine compliance with the NEC. Right or wrong, a non-government person at your company becomes the AHJ for electrical installations and is responsible for determining the NEC compliance and safety of the installation. It is usually a disadvantage for an installer to inspect their own work.

Even with a government AHJ responsible for the initial installation and an assigned facility AHJ for subsequent facility installations, there is an obligation for an employer to verify that maintenance, repair, or modification of the initial equipment does not create an unsafe electrical condition. It is not surprising that an employee may use what is available rather than what is required for a safe installation. A smaller wire gauge for a short circuit extension, a conduit coupling intended for another type of conduit, a missing cover bolt not replaced, or a lug not properly torqued are things that have occurred during repair. Who does management appoint as the AHJ to inspect such things?

Electrical inspections are not to assign blame but to confirm that electrical equipment is installed and maintained in a manner that safeguards persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity. Without verifying compliance, employees are at risk during the performance of their assigned work tasks and associated interaction with electrical equipment. Without an AHJ performing this important step regarding electrical safety, there is a risk of exposure to electrical hazard whether flipping a light switch, operating production line equipment, riding an elevator, or plugging in a coffee pot. It is also not possible to comply with the requirements of NFPA 70E without verification that the installation and maintenance conforms to safety standards and manufacturer's specifications. Who has your management documented and assigned the responsibility for being the AHJ for the safety of the electrical installations?

Next time: There are authorities having jurisdiction for a standard that is not adopted into law.

For more information on 70E, read my entire 70E blog series on Xchange.

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Christopher Coache
Senior Electrical Engineer

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