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Electrical Safety Resources

 


Electrical hazards can result in serious injury (or worse) of employees who work on or around electrical equipment. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than 20,000 workers have been injured in workplace electrical incidents over the last ten years.

To help create a safer work environment, it’s important to educate yourself on the current electrical safety standards and regulations, protective equipment and safe work procedures. Check out the resources and products below for more information so that you can make smarter, safer choices.  


Electrical hazards can result in serious injury (or worse) of employees who work on or around electrical equipment. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), more than 20,000 workers have been injured in workplace electrical incidents over the last ten years.

To help create a safer work environment, it’s important to educate yourself on the current electrical safety standards and regulations, protective equipment and safe work procedures. Check out the resources and products below for more information so that you can make smarter, safer choices.  

Products That Promote Electrical Safety Best Practices

Electrical Safety News:

This is What Makes a Qualified Electrical Worker

Whether you’re a builder, a property owner or the manager of an electrical firm yourself, you’ll need employees who can safely work with electrical systems. How can you be sure you’re only hiring fully-qualified electrical workers for your project? 

It’s an important question. Working with electricity can be dangerous, and unqualified workers don’t always have the training they need to stay safe, sometimes with terrible consequences. In 2017, 136 workers lost their lives through exposure to electricity on the job. In fact, workplace electricity exposure has caused more than 130 fatalities every year since 2011 – over 10 deaths per month, for nearly a decade. Many of these accidents could have been prevented with the right training. 

Besides, OSHA regulations won’t allow unqualified workers to perform certain types of electrical work. “Only qualified persons may work on electric circuit parts or equipment that have not been deenergized…,” reads OSHA standard 1910.333(c)(2)

What exactly is a qualified electrical worker, though? Before we get to the answers, it’s important to differentiate between an electrical worker and an electrician proper. 

The Difference Between Electricians and Electrical Workers

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Technically, not every employee who works with electrical systems and equipment will be an electrician. An electrician is a trades professional who comes up through an apprenticeship program, either with an electrician’s union like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), a trade association like Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) or Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) or an unaffiliated employer.

Electrical workers may be electricians — or they may be electrical technicians, electronics repairers, or any other employee whose day-to-day responsibilities involve electrical systems. This is a catch-all term without a strict definition. 

Ultimately, it’s better not to consider an unqualified employee an electrical worker in the first place. Keep expectations clear by using terminology precisely. Of course, to use these terms accurately, we need to understand what professionals mean when they use the term “qualified” in this context. 

Qualifications for the Electrician

An electrician learns through an apprenticeship program, which typically lasts four or five years, with at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job-training per year. Supplemental training programs complete the education. Some electricians start at a trade school, though this is far from universal. 

Regardless of the source, an electrician’s education will be heavy on safety protocols. Electricians learn to work according to the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70: National Electrical Code. They also study the companion volume, NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, which details the strategies professionals should use to stay safe while working with high-voltage systems. 

On completion of the apprenticeship, an electrician will be eligible to take a licensing exam. In the United States, these exams vary by state; learn more about your state’s licensing program at the National Electrical Contractors Association’s website. 

An electrician who has completed an apprenticeship and become licensed is called a “journey worker” or “journeyman.” Further experience and study grants the title “master electrician.” Generally speaking, a licensed journey worker will be qualified to install, maintain or repair any electrical system. 

Qualifications for the Electrical Worker

OSHA standards provide a definition of the “qualified person” who works with electrical systems. A qualified person, says OSHA standard 1910.399, is “one who has received training in and has demonstrated skills and knowledge in the construction and operation of electric equipment and installations and the hazards involved.” 

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​​​​​​​Notes to this definition clarify that this qualification is highly situation-specific. An employee may be qualified to work with one piece of electrical equipment, but unqualified in relation to the next.  

Qualification under OSHA is largely a function of safety training. Standard 1910.332 lists the training that an employee must receive in order to be considered qualified under the OSHA regulations. Standard 1910.332 requires employees to be trained on the safety best practices described in standards 1910.331, the remainder of 1910.332, 1910.333, 1910.334 and 1910.335

With all of these codes and regulations to consider, prospective employers may feel overwhelmed when faced with hiring decisions. Fortunately, trade associations, labor unions and licensing authorities can inform employers on a candidate’s qualifications. When in doubt, look for licenses and affiliation within professional groups during the search for qualified electrical workers. 

Electrical Safety and Temporary Power with Portable Generators

Many occasions call for the use of temporary power — post-disaster recovery, extreme weather events, construction work and more. Regardless of what the purpose of a temporary power system may be, most of these installations will depend on the use of portable generators as the central source of energy. 

That’s why every electrician should be ready to deploy portable generators as the core of a temporary power system. But what’s safe for a system wired to the central power grid may not be safe for a high-voltage generator (and vice versa). Temporary power systems present their own hazards and, consequently, their own safety guidelines that can reduce the risk for installation and maintenance teams. 

Here are a few things electrical workers should keep in mind when using portable generators to create temporary power installations: 

  • Temporary power systems must comply fully with the National Electrical Code (NEC). Just like permanent electrical wiring, temporary power is governed by the NEC. Article 590 of that code provides safety rules specifically for temporary installations. Be sure to familiarize yourself with Article 590 before installing a temporary power system. Remember that for certain uses, such as temporary holiday light displays, the NEC places a 90-day limit on use of the power system.
  • Portable generators should never be used indoors. These gas-burning machines use internal combustion engines to turn an alternator, thus generating electricity. Generators produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct, similar to a car’s engine. This odorless, colorless gas will poison bystanders if it’s allowed to accumulate in any meaningful concentration. This is why it’s crucial to avoid placing generators in any enclosed space, even one that’s ventilated by open windows and doors. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a minimum of three feet clearance on all sides of a generator, including above the unit, for optimal ventilation. 
  • WithInArticleGenerator
    Refuel generators only when they’re shut off and cool to the touch
    . The intense heat these engines generate can ignite spilled fuel on contact. Avoid this fire risk by turning off generators and giving them adequate time to cool completely before adding fuel. 
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. Reduce the risk and severity of electrical shock by employing GFCIs, which are designed to trip and cut power in the event of an unsafe energy path. The NEC requires GFCI protection on all receptacle outlets rated 125-volt, 125/250-volt, single-phase, and 15-, 20- or 30-ampere.
  • Use extension cords safely. This means grounded, insulated, outdoor-rated cords with wire sized for the appropriate current load. Remember that longer extension cords reduce voltage, boosting the current; when the conductors aren’t large enough to handle this current, they can overheat. Similarly, don’t connect multiple extension cords to achieve the desired length. 
    These connections can cause overloads, overheating and even fire.                

Please keep in mind that this list is far from exhaustive. Consult the NEC and OSHA standards 1910 Subpart S (for general industry) or 1926 Subpart K (for construction) for full details on working safely with temporary power systems. 

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How to Choose PPE for Electrical Safety

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is sometimes the only thing standing between an electrical worker and serious injury. The simplest item, like an arc-rated rubber glove or an insulating sleeve, can ensure every employee goes home safely at the end of the day. 

In order to realize the benefits of PPE, workers need to know what PPE to wear, when and under what circumstances. Employers must provide the equipment and training on proper usage. Everyone must do their part to create a culture of safety, in which wearing the right PPE becomes a habit. 

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of guidance in the industry. Two overlapping authorities can help us choose PPE for electrical work. First, there are the relevant OSHA regulations for construction and for general industry. Then there's NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Due to the detailed, systematic nature of the NFPA electrical safety codes, we'll start there. 

What NFPA 70E Says About Choosing Electrical PPE

The NFPA offers not one but two systems for determining what sort of PPE will give employees adequate protection from shocks and burns. The Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace instructs managers to choose one method and go with it (instead of combining the two methods). 

The first method is to simply consult the tables in part 130.7 of the NFPA 70E. In the 2018 edition of the code, Table 130.7(C)(15)(a) details the category of PPE electrical workers should wear when working various voltage levels in AC systems. Table 130.7(C)(15)(b) offers the same information for DC systems. 

Finally, users must consult Table 130.7(C)(15)(c), which describes the four categories of PPE as detailed in the previous two tables. All of these resources are available in Article 130 of the 2018 NFPA 70E codes, which you can access for free from the NFPA website.

The second method requires engineers to complete an Incident Energy Analysis. This test calculates the energy that an arc flash could inflict on a worker in terms of calories per centimeter squared, specifically in the context of a given task. With the results of the analysis in hand, users can consult Table 130.5(G), located in Article 130 of NFPA 70E, to determine the PPE workers must wear while performing that task.    

The “table method” has the advantage of being quick and relatively straightforward. The Incident Energy Analysis method, on the other hand, provides more detailed PPE choices. 

Regardless of the method used to choose PPE, Tables 130.7(C)(15)(a) and 130.7(C)(15)(b) provide arc-flash boundaries for common electrical systems. This is the radius within which all who enter must wear the designated PPE. 

Both of the above methods of choosing PPE require access to NFPA 70E, which you can find on the NFPA website. 

OSHA Standards on PPE in Electrical Work

Safety standards from OSHA echo the underlying principles of NFPA 70E without going into as great detail. In general industry (that is, not construction), employers should consult 29 CFR 1910.335(a)(1)(i) to ensure proper PPE usage and full compliance with legally-binding OSHA regulations.  

This standard, located within Subpart S of Part 1910, states, “Employees working in areas where there are potential electrical hazards shall be provided with, and shall use, electrical protective equipment that is appropriate for the specific parts of the body to be protected and for the work to be performed.” 

Standard 1910.335 goes on to address specific conditions: “Employees shall wear nonconductive head protection wherever there is a danger of head injury from electric shock or burns.” This standard also states, “Employees shall wear protective equipment for the eyes or face wherever there is danger of injury to the eyes or face from electric arcs or flashes or from flying objects resulting from electrical explosion.” 

PPE-Required
But what other kinds of PPE are the standards talking about? 

PPE Class Ratings in the OSHA Standards

For details, we’ll need to shift our attention to Subpart I of the OSHA regulations; specifically, standard 1910.137, Electrical Protective Equipment.

This section describes six classes of insulating gloves and sleeves as well as non-clothing protective equipment, such as rubber blankets and line hose. Compare this to NFPA 70E, which only considers insulating clothing to be PPE proper and addresses rubber blankets and other such equipment in a separate chapter.

In the construction industry, electrical protective equipment is detailed in standard 1926.97. These rules mirror the class ratings for PPE found in 1910.137. Classes include 00, 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. The higher the number, the higher the voltage the PPE is rated to withstand. 

Ozone-resistant PPE is labeled Type II and items that don’t resist ozone are considered Type I. 

Providing Appropriate PPE for Electrical Workers

Arc-rated, OSHA-compliant PPE is available from manufacturers like Protective Industrial Products (PIP), which offers the full range of NFPA-designated insulating and fire-resistant clothing. This includes gloves, sleeves, hoods, jackets, hard hats and arc shields in a variety of sizes. 

Speaking of sizes, correct sizing for PPE is crucial. Employers must ensure that they provide PPE that fits their employees precisely. When PPE is too loose, it interferes with work and can fall off at a crucial moment. When it’s too tight, workers can’t fit into it in the first place and their movements may be restricted. There’s also the employee’s comfort to consider because uncomfortable PPE can tempt the wearer to disregard protocol and go without. 

Strict Use of Code-Approved PPE Improves Safety

According to NFPA 70E, PPE is literally the electrical worker's last line of defense. The document’s hierarchy of risk control lists the order in which stakeholders should attempt hazard-removal techniques and PPE comes in last, meaning PPE is the final protection employees can rely on to save them from electrical hazards at work. 

That means PPE is your safety net. Don’t walk the wire without a net — instead, follow the rules set by OSHA and the NFPA to ensure safe, injury-free electrical work with every shift. 

Disclaimer: This content does not constitute legal or professional advice for a particular case. When in doubt, consult a NFPA-certified electrical safety compliance specialist.

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

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.

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Lockout/Tagout Compliance: What Every Employer Needs to Know

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules require an employer to use strict lockout/tagout procedures wherever the accidental release of energy could injure workers. That injury may come from electric shock, the sudden activation of equipment during maintenance or other means. But how important is it to comply with the related standards, really? 

The following statistics suggest an answer: 

  • In 2018, two of the construction industry’s leading causes of worker fatality were electrocutions and “caught-in/between” injuries. Perfect compliance with lockout/tagout procedures could prevent many, if not most, of these accidents.
  • The same year, the safety standard that describes lockout/tagout procedures for general industry was among OSHA’s top 10 most-cited violations. 
  • Violations of this standard were the fifth most common source of OSHA citations in 2018. For context, rules about ladders in the construction industry were number six on the list of most-cited OSHA violations; instructions on respiratory protection came in fourth.  

Clearly, locking or tagging equipment is vitally important to maintaining a safe workplace. Just as plainly, compliance could improve across the board — and better compliance starts with better procedures. Here are five crucial elements of a successful lockout/tagout program: 

  1. Consult the OSHA Standards on Lockout/Tagout Programs in Your Industry

    This one should be easy enough. Just check out the OSHA standard about lockout/tagout compliance, right? Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

    At least 10 different OSHA standards cover control of hazardous energy through lockout/tagout procedures. The good news is that most employers only need to focus on two of them: 29 CFR 1910.147, “The control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout),” requires lockout/tagout procedures on powered equipment in most industries; and 29 CFR 1910.333, “Selection and use of work practices” involving electrical systems, covers lockout/tagout procedures designed to prevent electrical shock.  

    Employers in the construction industry should consult OSHA standards 1926.417 and 1926.702. The former requires tagging of all circuits or energy-control points on electrical equipment. The latter makes a similar rule for concrete and masonry equipment. Finally, OSHA standard 1926.64 details lockout/tagout procedures surrounding hazardous chemicals at construction sites. 

  2. Know When to Lock Out Equipment and When Tags are Acceptable

    It may be called a lockout/tagout program, but locks and tags are not equal. Wherever possible, it’s better to lock equipment in an energy-isolated state between uses. The lock prevents devices from being energized, regardless of user error. Only the user with the key to the locking device can restore power to the equipment.  

    Tagout programs are required to provide an equal level of protection to lockouts. A tag warning users of the hazards is only half of the equation; you must also prevent accidental energizing by removing a circuit, detaching a valve handle, activating a block on a control switch or some similar method.  

    Either way, OSHA prefers the use of locks over tags, even with supplemental safety precautions accompanying tagout devices. In a 2002 publication on energy control, the agency stated that “OSHA considers lockout devices to be more secure and more effective than tagout devices in protecting employees from hazardous energy.”

    Worker placing safety tag

  3. Cover all Three of the Core Components of an Energy Control Program

    In order to comply with OSHA standards, a lockout/tagout program must include at least three major elements: procedures that detail what gets locked or tagged, by whom and how; ongoing training on those procedures; and periodic inspection to ensure that the procedures are still adequate to protect workers. 

    A complete energy control program will provide all necessary details on all three subjects, complete with accompanying documentation — which brings us to our next point. 

  4. Ensure Proper Documentation of the Energy Control Program

    OSHA standard 1910.147(c)(4)(i) specifies that, not only must employers develop and ensure the use of lockout/tagout procedures, they must document these procedures in writing. 

    There are exceptions — for instance, when the employee who performs maintenance is the only one with access to the lockout device, or when equipment only has one clear, easy-to-use power source — but where there’s potentially hazardous energy in the workplace, OSHA requires a written plan to keep that energy from injuring workers. 

  5. When in Doubt, Remember the Fundamental Goal of Lockout/Tagout Procedures

    When you’re rewriting lockout/tagout procedures, it’s easy to get lost in the details. Clear things up by keeping a single guiding principle in mind. Here’s how standard 1910.147 describes the purpose of the rule: 

    “This section requires employers to establish a program and utilize procedures for affixing appropriate lockout devices or tagout devices to energy isolating devices, and to otherwise disable machines or equipment to prevent unexpected energization, start up, or release of stored energy in order to prevent injury to employees.” 

    This last point — preventing injury to employees — applies equally to energy-control standards for electrical systems, in the construction industry and to every word of OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards. 

    When in doubt, ask yourself if a proposed rule will help to prevent injury. If it will, it belongs on the books. Remember that OSHA doesn’t dictate how employers develop their own energy control programs; they just insist that these programs meet the requirements set forth in their standards.

Safety Tags
Note, also, that the primary OSHA standard on energy control considers all forms of energy that might lead to injury. The standard lists the major ones — electrical, chemical, thermal, hydraulic and mechanical energies — but also mentions that this list is not exhaustive. 

Essentially, if the sudden reenergizing of a machine could injure an employee, that piece of equipment should be included in the overall lockout/tagout procedure. With these procedures in place, and with continuous investment in training to ensure that every employee follows the rules, all employers can reduce the risk of injury — or worse — in the workplace. 

For more information on building an energy control program at your facility, see OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout Tutorial, available here

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Installing ERMS Switches in Switchgear to Reduce Arc Flash Incidents

When the section was first introduced in 2011, electricians were required to reduce clearing time when circuit breakers without instantaneous trip devices were used. A 2014 update shifted the focus from these devices to the actual problem that NEC is attempting to resolve: reducing arc flash incidents (AFI) across electrical workspaces.

 

Rather than looking for the presence of certain trip functions, the latest update focuses on the ampere rating of circuit breaker frames—and their relationship with AFI. It states that any circuit breaker that can be set to 1200A or more is required to install safety components, such as an energy-reducing switch.

 

This change impacts a wide variety of gear from commercial strip malls to large medical installations.

One method for reducing AFI is to install an Energy-Reducing Maintenance Setting (ERMS) switch.

An ERMS switch, when activated, can set circuit breaker trip units to "maintenance mode” reducing the overall clearing time and lessening the chance of AFI. When the switch is turned off, the settings return to their previous values and circuit breakers continue with normal function.

 

In new projects, ERMS switches are now included as factory-assembled items and allow an operator to easily switch the breaker between “normal” and “maintenance” modes.

 

For existing installations, inspectors may require the equipment be brought up to 2014 standards. Installing an ERMS switch in the field can cost twice as much as a factory installation not including the amount of downtime involved.

When gear representatives understand local standards and national codes, they can help contractors save time and money.

As of January 2019, the AFI reduction standards determined by Section 240.87 are in effect in 43 states. (New codes have not been adopted in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas or Nevada, and Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri remain outside NEC standards altogether.) With more and more states moving towards 2014 standards, Graybar recommends installing components like the ERMS switch which can improve safety and reduce cost.

 

Graybar’s sales representatives are up-to-date on local code and can assist you by asking the right questions about your next installation. 

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How to Make Electrical Safety Job #1

When it comes to electrical safety there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), annual fatal electrical injuries have declined by more than 50% since 1992. The bad news is that construction trade workers experienced the most electrical fatalities, closely followed by installation, maintenance and repair occupations.

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