NFPA 70E: Five Important revisions to be aware of for 2021
Many companies have employees that work around electricity, but those employees may or may not be as familiar with the hazards of electricity as they should be. They get used to working with it and sometimes become complacent. They do not think about the actual hazard every time they perform an electrical task, many of which are basically routine if nothing goes wrong. But they can become disastrous if something goes wrong.
The National Fire Protection Association has published the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E, its standard for electrical safety in the workplace. OSHA considers NFPA 70E the primary consensus standard addressing electrical hazards. Although OSHA doesn’t enforce NFPA 70E, the agency can use the standard to support violations of its General Duty Clause by showing that a hazard is recognized and there is a feasible means of abatement.
Almost every employer whose workers deal with electricity can benefit from staying up to date with NFPA 70E, which is revised every three years. These updates are from the public, professional associations, and experts and goes through NFPA’s 70E committee.
The goal of those who suggest NFPA 70E changes for each revision is twofold.
- Worker safety and clarity of the standard
- An attempt to make the standard more practical to use.
NFPA over the last few cycles, has taken steps for people not to misuse NFPA 70E and injure themselves. Also, it is considerably easier for employers and their employees to understand.
The 2021 edition of NFPA 70E features five key changes.
- In the beginning
Article 110, titled “General Requirements for Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices,” is where it all began for workers. Article 110 applies to everything and is the basis for what you should be doing. Changes to the article involved reorganizing it to ensure the requirements are in a proper sequence. This includes moving the general principles of lockout/tagout from Section 120.2 and energized work requirements from Section 130.2. The move was made to make things in the standard more logical to use. To that end the article contains a new subsection – 110.5(K). That subsection requires an employer’s electrical safety program to “include an electrically safe work condition policy.”
- Attention to Capacitors.
Article 360, titled “Safety-Related Requirements for Capacitors,” puts additional attention on these energy storage devices that are used in many different systems, such as conveyers, heating, cooling and airflow. Capacitors were always included, but now they have got their own article, with all the alternate energies, there are a lot of capacitor systems being used. If you shut them off, they still retain power and could cause injury or death to an employee. The public, industry experts and the technical committee felt that a full, dedicated article to capacitors was important since there are stored-energy capacitors used in a lot of systems. The referenced article includes measures to keep workers safe, provisions for performing a risk assessment and to establish an electrically safe work condition for a capacitor.
- Energy threshold change
Section 350.9 revises the energy thresholds for electrical equipment and systems in laboratories for 50 volts and 5 milliamperes for alternating current; 100 volts and 40 milliamperes for direct current, unless there are appropriate controls are implemented. With the addition of Article 360, the capacitive circuit threshold was deleted to avoid duplication and potential confusion, according to NFPA.
- To be safe, assume that arc flash incidents are likely!
It is always the safe bet to assume that there is an arc flash hazard, until you know for sure there is not one. Your life could depend upon it. In the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E is included a revised Table 130.5(C), designed to be used to help estimate the likelihood of an arc flash incident being present. The reason for the change is to make sure the standard is being used properly by all employers and employees. This table came about because of a change in learning how people were misusing the standard. It is to impress upon everyone that you need to make sure that the likelihood of an arch flash occurrence does not exist for your piece of equipment prior to working with or on it. The people who wrote the standard and the public who provide input do not have the ability to determine if the piece of equipment you are working on has an arc flash or not. ONLY YOU DO!
The NFPA 70E standard was never meant to make individual determinations on a piece of equipment. It is not able to determine or to take into consideration if a circuit breaker or other electrical equipment is poorly maintained or properly operating. Employees were blindly looking at the standard and using the tables without considering the likelihood of an arc flash occurrence. The standard is trying to encourage employees into making better decisions than they have done in the past. The table comprises more than 30 tasks to determine arc flash likelihood, including a new entry on the initial operation of a circuit breaker or switch after installation and again after maintenance on the equipment, because each present a higher likelihood of an incident.
- Hazardous work
Article 130, “Work Involving Electrical Hazards,” two sections – 130.1: General and 130.2: Energized Electrical Work Permit – have been rewritten to accommodate information moved from other portions of NFPA 70E. The result is in more details focused on safety-related work practices, assessments, precautions, and procedures when an electrically safe work condition cannot be established, along with elements and exceptions of a work permit.
In my opinion, it all depends upon you. Think about it. The decisions you make today may very well decide if you see your family tonight or live to work another day.