What’s New in the 2018 Edition of NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace
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What’s New in the 2018 Edition of NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace

04/29/19

The National Electric Code (NEC) isn’t the only set of rules electricians need to know. There’s also NFPA 70E: Standards for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which is equally crucial.

The difference between these two sets of rules is simple: The NEC describes the elements, specifications and requirements of a safe electrical system. Standard 70E, meanwhile, tells us how to work with those systems safely. Along with NFPA 70B: Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, this trio of codes ensures we can enjoy the benefits of electricity as safely as possible.

But we’re always learning more about workplace safety and electrical systems. Things change. To reflect these changes, NFPA 70E has adopted a three-year cycle for new editions. The latest version of the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace arrived in 2018, and it introduced a number of innovations aimed at keeping electricians safe on the job.

So how different is this latest edition of NFPA 70E, compared to the previous, 2015 version? Here are some of the most important changes every electrical contractor should be aware of:

  • Article 120, “Establishing an Electrically Safe Work Condition,” is easier to use. The authors reorganized Article 120 to provide a step-by-step process by which users can set up an effective lockout/tagout program.

  • A rewritten Risk Assessment Procedure now explicitly requires the consideration of potential human error. Because simple mistakes can be difficult to predict, the latest edition of NFPA 70E also provides Informative Annex Q, which helps readers understand human performance risks and their relation to electrical safety.

  • A revised table in Article 130, “Work Involving Electrical Hazards,” makes it easier to estimate the risk of arc flash. The table (which applies to both AC and DC systems) lists common electrical tasks, from reading a panel meter to installing voltage transformers. For each task, an arc flash incident is either likely to occur or not, which keeps the table simple.

  • The standard now explicitly places elimination of safety hazards as the most effective method of risk control. That may sound obvious, but it’s worth stating, and the 2018 edition makes it very clear. The cover depicts a risk control pyramid, and “elimination” of hazards is at the very top.

  • Guidance on choosing arc-rated clothing and additional personal protective equipment (PPE) now includes a table that goes into greater detail. This table is designed for users who make PPE choices based on the results of an Incident Energy Analysis. This safety test provides more concrete information on potential energy exposure, allowing users to choose among a subtler range of PPE than the text in Section 130.7, “Personal and Other Protective Equipment.”

Although safety is the top priority, there’s another reason electrical contractors should stay up-to-date with the latest edition of the Standards for Electrical Safety in the Workplace: It could help you avoid costly OSHA violations.

New editions of NFPA 70E overlap heavily with OSHA’s standards on electrical safety, both in the construction field (29 CFR 1926 Subpart K) and in general industry (29 CFR 1910 Subpart S).

OSHA can and will issue fines for violations of the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act of 1970, which broadly requires employers to maintain safe workplaces — even as our knowledge about occupational safety grows and changes.

Electrical contractors who follow the latest version of NFPA 70E closely won’t need to worry about OSHA fines, at least not in the context of their core electrical work. More importantly, their employees are far more likely to complete every shift safely while being prepared for the next big job.

For now, it’s best to rely on the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E — but 2021 is right around the corner.