May is National Electrical Safety Month, an annual effort to help reduce electrically-related fatalities, injuries, and property loss—both at in the home and at work. Sponsored by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and other groups, the goal of Electrical Safety Month is to increase public awareness of the electrical hazards in the workplace, at home, school, and at play. One of the core values of IAEI is electrical safety and one of our primary objectives are to increase awareness of the common electrical hazards that can exist in homes and to encourage customers to arrange for the installation of ground-fault circuit protectors in residential installations. In addition to home safety, electrical inspectors and other industry professionals can also work to promote workplace safety both at work and out in the field to keep their businesses healthy and safe.
Safe Work Practices
Electrical workers are expected to possess the required knowledge of safe work practices while working in the field. A firm understanding of electrical installations from rough wiring to finished energized electrical systems and the electrical hazards associated with each is required. Safety rules become more extensive and more demanding when inspectors work around energized equipment, and the inspector should understand the dos and don’ts when working with energized equipment.
Suitable personnel protective equipment (PPE) is required for protection when working on or near energized equipment. In many jurisdictions, the contractors have the responsibility to make it a safe environment for inspection and may be required to provide the appropriate PPE. When working on non-energized equipment, the circuit disconnecting means should be locked in the open position for safety and inspectors should follow all applicable locking and tagging rules. Covers should not be removed from energized equipment unless the equipment is first disconnected from the source and it is verified that the equipment is in an electrically safe working condition.
In the first stages of construction, inspectors are rarely exposed to energized equipment. Projects near the final stages usually have energized equipment and circuits, and jurisdictions often have regulations that require an approval or acceptance by the inspector before turning equipment or circuits on. Inspectors should incorporate the same safe work practices that electrical workers do before exposure to energized parts; Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rules are the same for both the inspector and the worker.
Safe access to the equipment for the inspector to perform the job is generally the responsibility of the contractor/owner. However, being qualified also means that one understands the risks and hazards involved and knowing when to ask the right questions before inspecting equipment. In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOSH) operates as OSHA does within the United States, and local occupational health and safety regulations and acts specifically mandate safe work practices around energized electrical equipment.
NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace & CSA Z462, Workplace Electrical Safety
The employer is required to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are or can cause death or serious physical harm to employees. This is especially challenging for inspection agencies and their inspectors as an electrical inspector can face many different levels of electrical hazards on any given day due to the visiting multiple worksites. When you really think about it, an electrical inspector’s workplace can be an entire city, county, town or state so the best protection method is to arm the electrical inspector with the skill and knowledge to: recognize the electrical hazards, understand the injury they present and the necessary safe work practices to employ to reduce the likelihood of injury or death.
National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, and CSA Group’s Z462, Workplace Electrical Safety, contains requirements for safety-related work practices, maintenance requirements, and safety provisions for special equipment to reduce exposure to electrical hazards. CSA Z462 is based on and is updated in parallel with NFPA 70E for use in Canadian workplaces.
NFPA 70E begins with a roadmap similar to OSHA’s, i.e., the employer provides the structure, equipment, and training for safety and the employee, once trained by the employer, is to implement the safe work practices out in the field. NFPA 70E and CSA Z462 also primarily describes how to protect electrical workers from electric shock, electrocution and arc flash by providing a four-step approach to electrical safety. This method includes: establishing an electrically safe working condition, having an energized electrical work permit when working on electrical equipment can be justified, having a written plan for performing energized work safely, and using personal protective equipment.
Performing an arc-flash and shock-risk assessment is one of the critical compliance steps outlined in NFPA 70E and CSA Z462. By performing an arc-flash risk assessment, the potential amount of energy released by each piece of electrical equipment will be determined. So the arc-flash risk assessment is used to determine if arc flash hazard exists; and if an arc flash hazard does exist, the appropriate safety-related work practices, the arc flash boundary and the personal protective equipment (PPE) required to be worn by personnel working inside the arc flash boundary. The shock risk assessment will determine the voltage to which the worker will be exposed, the boundary requirements, and the PPE necessary to minimize the possibility of electric shock.
Determining if there is an arc flash hazard and, if so, the necessary PPE is a challenging task for electrical inspection agencies and electrical inspectors, to say the least. The reality of it is the necessary information from a detailed arc flash study or for using the PPE Category Tables in NFPA 70E and CSA Z462 are not always available when performing electrical inspections outside of the large industrial settings; and when the information is available, the electrical inspector may not have the required PPE. For these reasons, the best protection may be to provide sufficient training for the electrical inspector to be able to identify and understand the electrical hazards and their associated injuries, and to establish safe-work practices that do not allow the electrical inspector to be exposed to an electrical hazard.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is protective clothing and other protective equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that may result in serious workplace injuries. This equipment includes items such as gloves, glasses, shoes, earplugs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls and vests, and so forth. PPE offers protection from contact with chemical, physical, electrical, mechanical or other workplace hazards. In the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E, 90.2 included “inspection” as part of the scope of this document; therefore, identifying that electrical inspectors need to wear PPE when appropriate. When working where there are electrical hazards, the inspector should have the appropriate PPE that will afford a reasonable amount of protection in the event of an accident. Wearing the PPE does not mean that an individual would not be injured from an arc-flash event, it just improves the chances that any burns or other injuries are curable and survivable.
NFPA 70E, Electrical Safety in the Workplace (www.nfpa.org/70E), OSHA requirements (https://www.osha.gov/law-regs.html), and CCOSH requirements (http://www.canoshweb.org/) help detail when and where PPE needs to be worn. These documents provide requirements and guidance about PPE; there is also information about PPE at both the NFPA and OSHA websites. Many organizations offer PPE for the electrical contractor, but it is critical to verify that the equipment has the appropriate arc ratings and is tested to proper ASTM standards.
Electric Shock Protection
Potential shock hazards can be difficult to recognize to the untrained or inexperienced eye on job sites and, particularly, in areas that have experienced storm damage. An electrocution is a result of encountering a lethal amount current. Shock protection comes in many forms, with properly installed ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) being that last line of defense of protection.
Electrocutions were the fifth leading cause of death from 1980 through 1995, based on data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)’s National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) surveillance system. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that the total number of electrocutions in the United States has decreased by 40% from 670 in 1990, to 400 in 2000. During this same period, an estimated number of electrocutions related to consumer products dropped by 44% from 270 to 150 during this same period. The work we do in codes and standards is driving these numbers in the right direction (Domitrovich, March 2013).
Numerous documents detail how to avoid coming in contact with energized conductors and equipment, such as NFPA 70E and CSA Z462 . The National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, and the Canadian Electrical Code also contain valuable safety information in respect to arc flash hazard and references in Appendix B Note on Rule 2-306 CSA Z462 , ANSI/NEMA Z535.4 and IEEE 1584 as the standards that provide necessary guidance and assistance on this subject.
In Conclusion, Assess Your Workplace Safety Habits
Here are a few questions to ask when assessing electrical safety within the workplace.
- Is there justification for working on the equipment while energized? If yes, does the installer or inspector wear the proper protective equipment while performing that task?
- Is the level of PPE equipment to be worn understood by the installer/inspector?
- Does the employer know that installers or inspectors work on equipment while it is energized? Does the employer understand OSHA regulations about working on energized equipment?
- Are panelboard covers removed when the panelboard is energized? If yes, is PPE worn while performing that task?
- Do the electrical workers know the difference between a curable burn and a burn that is not curable?
- Does the worker understand the definition of the term qualified person in Article 100 of NFPA 70E or CSA Z462? Are they considered a qualified person and do they know the limits of their qualifications?
A good indication that more training is needed is if all or most of the answers to these questions are no. Several organizations provide information and safety training in these areas. In addition to education and training, organizational and individual awareness of hazards and the protective measures needed to avoid the risks is also important. It is important that electrical workers understand the importance of respecting the power and danger of electricity.
Domitrovich, Thomas A., “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” IAEI Magazine, September/October 2014.
International Association of Electrical Inspectors. Becoming the Electrical Inspector. Richardson, Texas: IAEI, 2017.
Johnston, Michael, “Electrical Inspector Workplace Safety,” IAEI Magazine, May-June 2003.
National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 70: National Electrical Code®. Quincy, Massachusetts: NFPA, 2014.
National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. Quincy, Massachusetts: NFPA, 2014.
CSA Group. CSA Z462: Workplace Electrical Safety Standard. Toronto, Ontario: CSA 2015