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Section 130.5(H) has specific requirements for equipment labels when there are electrical hazards present. For some reason, users of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace have trouble applying Exception No. 1 (compliance with a previous edition) and the requirement that the data be reviewed for accuracy within 5 years. Looking at these as two separate issues may help those who are confused on applying the rules.

The exception applies to the information on an existing label. The intent is not to require replacement of labels when electrical safety is not affected. The exception assumes that the applied label complied with a previous edition of the standard. For example, a previous edition of the standard required only an incident energy or HRC on the label. A subsequent edition required the arc-flash boundary. The current edition uses PPE categories. If nothing else has changed in the electrical system, these labels would not need to be replaced. Depending on how your facility handles electrical safety there may be reasons to change the label to the current labeling method for consistency or due to your written safety procedures. A qualified person has been trained to understand how to apply the appropriate safety procedures for any affixed, compliant label. Notice that the exception is applicable upon adoption of the current standard. It is not based on a 5-year review.

The 5-year review applies to all evaluated equipment. A review is not required to occur once every five years. It is required that a review not exceed five years. You are responsible for being aware of changes in the electrical system at your facility. It is your responsibility to conduct a review whenever a modification may change or increase the electrical hazards that an employee might be exposed to. If distribution equipment is modified the day after the labels were applied, it would be necessary to conduct a review that next day. The review may be conducted within 5 years of the last review when no known changes to the electrical system have occurred. This of course, assumes that you have conducted proper equipment maintenance, purchased the exact replacement fuse or circuit breaker for the system, and did not install auxiliary power equipment for power outages.

Another point of confusion is what is required as part of this review. The word review was chosen to be exactly that. It does not require that an entire risk analysis or re-calculation be performed within five years. You must review the systems to which the risk assessment was based on. If proper maintenance has been performed, no overcurrent devices were replaced, no new risks are present based on new equipment tasks, etc., then a note could be added in the file that the review revealed no changes in the electrical system have affected electrical safety. If equipment was not maintained, if the replacement circuit breaker specifications are different, or if the utility swapped out the facility transformer, there may be concern. A new risk assessment should be conducted to verify or change the label information.

As usual, all this is necessary to protect the employee from injury. Anything that effects their safety must be addressed in a timely manner. Hopefully, the label and risk assessment reviews are just another area where you go beyond the minimum requirements of the standard.

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

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NEC Connect newsletter to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

Next time: A host employer is responsible for the safety of contract employees.

 

The 2020 edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) hit the shelves back in September of 2019 and with its release came a sweeping change to the requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel in residential type occupancies or dwelling units. Communicating the ins and outs of what this means for dwelling unit electrical systems going forward is a big part of the value that NFPA can bring to the electrical industry. To do this, we were able to enlist the help of our friends at the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) to help spread the word. I had the opportunity to contribute to the January/February edition of the IAEI magazine with an article featuring the highlights and reasoning of the many changes that took place during the 2020 revision process.

 

Some of the highlights included the expansion of GFCI protection in dwelling units, clarification of how measurements are taken, and relocation of specific requirements as needed. These changes are going to increase the safety aspect of homes built under the 2020 NEC. By implementing the technology that we have available today, we can create a safe space in our homes where the risk of electrocution is significantly lower than even just a few years ago.

 

The NEC is an ever-evolving document that will never stop striving to meet its purpose and that is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.

My colleague, Robert Solomon, provides insights on fire safety and evacuation plans to I Advance Senior Care for the benefit of owners, executives, administrators, and directors of nursing at assisted living communities, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. 

 

In part, Solomon explains that, "A large percentage of the population are going to be incapable of self-preservation. This means that your employees may be called on to use special techniques to evacuate residents." Per Solomon, evacuation should actually be a last resort. “One of the things we strive not to do in a facility like a nursing home is to get to a point where we have to evacuate anybody. Planning is centered around the idea of ‘defend in place.’”

 

Read the article and share it with your colleagues.

 

The recent issue of NFPA Journal featured an article about the numerous deadly fires in health care occupancies, predominantly hospitals, that continue to occur throughout other parts of the world. Had that story been written in the 1960s, it could have included the United States, but we have been fortunate to have not experienced such fires or losses since 2003. Within a seven-month period that year, two multiple fatality nursing home fires occurred. As noted in the article, one of the main reasons for our favorable experience in the US centers around the various layers of regulation, enforcement, and commitment to maintain a rigorous oversight and surveillance of the safety systems and features required by codes such as NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.  Adoption of the 1967 edition of NFPA 101 in 1970 by the predecessor organization to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has cast a wide net over the appropriate fire and life safety provisions that hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory health care, and certain residential board and care occupancies must adhere to.

 

In 2016, CMS finalized their rule for adoption of the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, along with the 2012 edition of NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code. While much discussion, publicizing, and retraining around those editions of these important codes took place in 2016 and 2017, the question on the table is, “Have people forgotten about how these regulations work?”

 

A recently released report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from the US Department of Health and Human Services provided an insight into violations at 18 nursing homes in Texas. The report cites provisions and requirements contained in NFPA 99, NFPA 101, as well as the Fire Safety Survey Report  (K-Tags) that is developed by CMS. NFPA developed a resource that provides all the content from the 2012 editions of NFPA 99 and NFPA 101 along with an interactive version of the Fire Safety Survey Report Form that connects these provisions. The OIG report also cites a lack of facility preparation and measures surrounding the Emergency Preparedness (EP) rule that CMS finalized in 2017. Like the rule adopting NFPA 99 and NFPA 101, the EP criteria applies to nursing homes as well as 16 other provider types that are regulated through CMS.

 

NFPA worked diligently to provide background, knowledge and relevant information for both of these federal rules.  We created a specific landing page on our website to consolidate that information and to offer selected resources. While we’ve had approximately 3+ years of experience with these relatively new provisions, is it possible that some level of complacency has set in? The OIG report on the Texas nursing homes is alarming, but fortunately identified potential hazards and violations before anything bad has happened. While some will argue that this particular OIG report notes some minor violations, which is probably fair, others are not so minor. The regulatory structure of not only the federal government criteria but also of the NFPA codes and standards does not make a judgment that providing inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) oversight of a fire door is more or less important than providing that same level of ITM for a sprinkler system or anything else. The NFPA code provisions, backed up by the supplemental regulations put forth by CMS, are intended to work as a total system or package.  This part of the regulatory infrastructure is highlighted in several cogs of the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem.

 

While NFPA cannot enforce or determine how well or not so well our code provisions are applied to any building during the construction phase or lifecycle phase of the building, we can offer tools that work to assist operators of these facilities with their code compliance obligations. While we have delivered various pieces of content, including press releases, resource materials, and fee-based materials around this topic, this is a good time to remind everyone what we have available. Our goal at NFPA is to be the resource that designers, AHJ’s, owner/operators and even contractors can turn to in order to provide quality, safe and usable facilities. Occupants of nursing homes are obviously in a vulnerable state; maintaining a high level of readiness for all the building systems and features is of paramount importance.

 

While it is by no means a formal relationship, the regulatory structure for the built environment surrounding the health care system in the US is made up of a combination of private-sector resources such as those available from NFPA and the resources provided by CMS.  Maintaining these facilities for a level of readiness regardless of the hazard was essentially the sole purpose of the emergency preparedness rule.  Protecting the occupants from the impact of a fire was the purpose of the rule previously mentioned dating back to 1970 that mandates the use of various editions of NFPA 99 and NFPA 101.

The OIG report coming out of Texas is a prompt that this is the time to provide a reminder to everyone involved in the operation, oversight, or enforcement of these federal regulations of what is available. I have provided a list of those resources below that includes information directly or indirectly referenced and utilized by CMS.  This also includes information that is acknowledged for use by another entity within the US Department of Health and Human Services — the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response-ASPR.

 

I suspect that the items identified in the OIG report from Texas are not unique to that state by any means. Likewise, I wonder if such reports will extend beyond nursing homes to other types of provider types, including acute care, and residential board and care occupancies among others. Although nothing is forever, federal rule-making criteria such as that utilized to adopt NFPA codes and standards remains in effect until the responsible federal agency says otherwise.  Those provisions are merely not words and the criteria they reference such as the NFPA codes sitting on your shelf, or perhaps in the cloud somewhere, are not intended to be an academic exercise or some nice ideas. They provide the foundation for safe buildings and for the appropriate level of emergency preparedness.

 

Following are links (in no particular order) to resources and information that provide guidance on meeting fire and life safety requirements in healthcare facilities. (Some of these resources are also referenced in the above blog.)

 

 

As the world’s leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards, our public affairs department gets asked all kinds of questions. For example, this week’s media inquiries included requests for NFPA insight on the Australia wildfire; inept fire protection systems in LA; evacuation practices for disabled residents in Minneapolis hi-rises; fire department response times in Dallas; and golf cart fires in Florida.

 

I can’t say why this last one about golf carts stood out, but it did. It most likely resonated with me because I’m in the Boston area and, as is often the case in New England in February, it is cold and dreary. So, today, the thought of cruising on the back nine, zipping to the beach, or buzzing to a friend’s home in a golf cart piqued my interest. And in typical NFPA employee fashion, those thoughts quickly led me to wonder about potential fire hazards that may slow a golf cart owner’s roll.

 

Global Market Insights and other trend-watchers, say that golf carts are popular because they are convenient, economical, and environmental alternatives for moving people short distances. The golf industry leads the user pack, as you might imagine. In 2018 alone, there were over 500 golf courses under development across the globe – and of course they require low speed vehicles (LSVs). But, others are turning to golf carts, too, including the hospitality industry, universities, airports, tourist spots, housing developments, and residents in some states that are authorizing use on streets. Modern day carts are relatively quiet, produce low engine emissions, are easy to operate, can accommodate between 2-14 passengers, and boast all kinds of features.

 

Golf carts tend to use lead acid batteries, like those used in cars; and typically create a very small amount of hydrogen when being charged. Hydrogen is an odorless and colorless gas that is flammable. It is not usually concerning but it can be if a very large battery is being charged in a small sealed enclosure, or charged incorrectly as recently reported by The Palm Beach Post in Florida. Palm Beach County Fire Marshal David DeRita told the newspaper that fire departments are seeing an increase in carbon monoxide calls that tend to actually be hydrogen-related. The fire official pointed out that when hydrogen is present, just touching a garage switch or garage door light, which work off electricity, could ignite fire. “We are talking about a double whammy here. If it doesn’t suffocate you, it can kill you through a fire,” DeRita said.


As part of their basic maintenance, lead acid batteries require distilled water to be added on a periodic basis. Until 2018, carts did not feature safety mechanisms that shut off charging if water levels ran too low. It is equally concerning if water exceeds the fill line because the battery needs extra space or air to do its job. A few years back, Al Guzzetta, owner of Cart Masters, spoke with a Fort Myers news station about the dangers associated with overfilling the cell of the battery with water. He advised, "Do not fill them up like a regular car battery because the charger actually makes them percolate like a coffee maker."


Hazards can also arise when carts are charging. In September, WCSC-TV in South Carolina reported that improper golf cart charging resulted in nearly $60,000 in damage to a Seabrook Island home and van. In that incident, a modified 50-foot extension cord, not the manufacturer’s cord, was used to charge an electric golf cart. The cord lacked the third prong needed to ground electricity, prompting the golf cart in the driveway to catch fire, and ignite both the house next to it and a van nearby.

 

Today, Lithium ion battery-charged golf carts are beginning to take hold in the market. Although upfront costs may be 20% higher, the long- term benefits and ease of maintenance are being well-received. For example, li-on battery models can be fully charged in four hours (or to 80% within an hour), as opposed to eight hours for lead acid batteries. The weight of lithium ion batteries are about two-thirds lighter too, which bodes well for wear and tear on carts. There is little information available about fire or other hazardous incidents involving lithium ion-charged golf carts but as we have learned in recent years, li ion batteries can explode or overheat; and given that golf carts tend to be used in outdoor locations where temperatures may run high, there is a possibility that we may hear of challenges in the future.


Golf carts are meant to help users enjoy outdoor activities, convenient transport, and a host of other benefits. Follow these simple steps to ensure that your LSV and loved ones are kept safe from harm:

 

  • Follow the manufacturer’s charging recommendations
  • Use the charger provided by the manufacturer
  • Charge the vehicle in a ventilated area
  • Be sure to charge the cart when someone is home – and never overnight
  • And if your cart has an acid lead battery, ensure that your house and garage have carbon monoxide detectors

 

For additional tips and helpful videos, visit the National Golf Cart Association website.

 

So far, 2020 has seen several noteworthy high-rise building fires.  On Wednesday, January 29, a fire in a 25-story residential high-rise in Los Angeles left at least 11 people injured, one fatally. The fire was said to have begun on the 6th floor and spread to the 7th floor of the non-sprinklered building. Ironically, a fire that erupted on the 11th floor of the same building in 2013 displaced up to 150 residents and injured two people.  On January 14th, nearly two dozen people were hurt, two of them critically, following a fire on the 24th floor of a luxury high-rise building on the Upper East Side of New York City.  The fire started in an apartment's kitchen and spread through the entire floor. It was likely because the of an open door to the dwelling unit that the fire spread so rapidly throughout the floor. 

 

One required fire protection feature found in nearly all high-rise buildings is a standpipe system.  Standpipe systems are fixed piping systems with associated equipment that transports water from a reliable water supply to designated areas of buildings. These systems can significantly improve the efficiency of manual fire-fighting operations by eliminating the need for long and cumbersome hose lays from fire apparatus to a fire. Even in buildings that are protected by automatic sprinklers, standpipe systems can play an important role in building fire safety by serving as a backup for, and complement to, sprinklers.

 

Standpipes in high-rise buildings can serve to increase life safety, as well as property protection, because of the lengthy evacuation times associated with tall buildings. In many cases, emergency action plans advise occupants who are not in immediate danger of exposure to fire to remain within the building to allow responding fire service personnel better access to the standpipes within the exit stair enclosures (staged/partial evacuation). Use of standpipes at such times supplements the operation of the required automatic sprinkler system. 

 

The design and installation of standpipe systems shall be in accordance with not only Section 13.2 of NFPA 1 but also NFPA 14 which sets the minimum requirements for the installation of both standpipe and hose systems. All high-rise buildings are required to be protected throughout by a Class I standpipe system.  A Class I system provides 2½ in. (65 mm) hose connections at designated locations in a building for use by the fire department. A Class I system is typically required in buildings that have more than three stories above or below grade because of the time and difficulty involved in laying hose from fire apparatus directly to remote floors.  For these reasons, Class I standpipes are the required system in high-rise buildings. (Refer to NFPA 1 for other conditions where a standpipe may be required in other than a high-rise building.)

 

Also per NFPA 1, the AHJ is authorized to permit the removal of existing occupant use hose lines where all of the following conditions are met:

  1. This Code does not require their installation.
  2. The current building code does not require their installation.
  3. The AHJ determines that the occupant-use hose line will not be utilized by trained personnel or the fire department.

 

It is not the intent to permit the removal of portions of the existing standpipe system other than hose lines, and that such remaining system components be maintained and available for use by the fire department or other appropriate fire suppression personnel.  This is intended to explicitly allow the removal of nonrequired, occupant-use standpipe hose from buildings. Prior to the 2015 edition, some AHJs might have been wary of permitting the removal of occupant-use hose, lacking any Code language stating its removal was permitted. Provided that the hose is not required by NFPA 1 or the applicable building code, and no trained on-site fire suppression personnel would be expected to utilize it, the hose can be removed. It is preferable for untrained building occupants to evacuate rather than attempt to extinguish a fire using hose lines.

 

Like any other building fire protection system, standpipe systems must be properly maintained. NFPA 25 provides the specific details for inspection, testing and maintenance procedures, frequencies and documentation. The owner is responsible for maintaining the standpipe system and keeping it in good working condition.  The local AHJ is then responsible for confirming through the owner that they have done their job in maintaining the system in accordance with the appropriate procedures. 

 

Standpipe systems are critical for life safety, property protection and for efficient firefighter operations and their safety.  Fires in high-rise buildings will continue to occur, but ensuring these systems, when required, are present and functioning, can minimize the impact of these events.

 

IT’S A BIG WORLD. LET’S PROTECT IT TOGETHER.

 

Don't miss another #FireCodeFridays blog! Get notifications straight to your email inbox by subscribing here! And you can always follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA

 

Thanks for reading!

People tend to get hung up on whether or not it is safe to work on a specific piece of electrical equipment. Often the hang up is caused by an attempt to classify a task as electrical work or non-electrical work. Working on electrical equipment or performing non-electrical work are really just terms. When it comes to electrical safety the task being performed does play a role in the steps to be taken in protecting the employee. However, the electrical hazard is really the issue. What doesn’t change, regardless of what the assigned task is considered, is whether or not the employee is exposed to an electrical hazard. 

Consider the exposure to electrical hazards without classifying a set of tasks as electrical or non-electrical. An equipment label indicates that the restricted approach boundary is 2 feet, 2 inches, the limited approach boundary is 5 feet and the arc-flash boundary is 14 feet. An employee is removing the bolts to open the enclosure although the equipment is not yet placed into an electrical safe work condition. Another employee who will do a thermography scan and a maintenance worker assigned to vacuum out the equipment are standing 4 feet away. Another worker is standing 2 feet away ready to establish an electrically safe work condition after the thermography scan is completed. Another worker is painting the ceiling 10 feet away. There will be exposed electrical hazards when the enclosure is opened. What does 130.2 require? It requires that an electrical equipment be placed in an electrically safe work condition whenever the exposed voltage will be above 50 volts or when someone is interacting with equipment that increases the likelihood of an arc-flash unless the exposure is justified. Section 130.3 requires that employees be protected when working while exposed to electrical hazards. What exposed hazards will put each of these employees at risk?

Start with the employee unbolting the enclosure’s cover. This employee will be within the restricted approach boundary during the removal of the cover. Not only will the employee be inside the arc-flash boundary at that time but will be interacting with the equipment in such a way to increase the likelihood of an arc-flash. The employee who is responsible for establishing the electrically safe work condition is also within all three boundaries. The thermography and maintenance employees are within the limited approach boundary as well as the arc-flash boundary. What of the worker whose back is to the equipment while painting the ceiling? That worker is within the arc-flash boundary and may not know what is occurring behind her. 

There are so many things that I would do differently, but this blog is to illustrate a point. NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace does not deem a task as electrical or non-electrical work. It requires that all employees be protected from electrical hazards. There are specific requirements on how to do so based on the boundary being crossed. Who is permitted to cross a specific boundary and what should occur upon doing so is also addressed. It does not matter if an employee’s title is mechanic, electrician, maintenance worker, technician, contractor, or painter. NFPA 70E uses the terms qualified and unqualified person. All five employees are at risk of being injured by an arc-flash. Two of the employees are at increased risk of being shocked (electrocuted) and two more are exposed to a shock hazard. 

How you classify a task at your facility is semantics when it comes to electrical safety. What will be your justification for the painter’s injury following an arc-flash incident? That she was not working on the electrical equipment will not be acceptable. It will not matter that the thermographer was doing something deemed non-electrical when the arc-flash occurred. Is the injury different because the employee removing the cover is a technician when he is electrocuted due to a loose, energized wire? If you want to get hung up on an electrical term, make it hazards. Adequately protect all employees performing any task around any electrical hazard. Even better, don’t expose an employee to an electrical hazard.

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

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NEC Connect newsletter to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

Next time: Arc-flash label replacement and risk assessment reviews.

A resident clings to the exterior of a 25-story Los Angeles high-rise apartment building on January 29, 2020; photo courtesy of Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

 

I have to wonder whether passersby on L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard thought they were witnessing the filming of a new action film, considering they were only about nine miles away from Hollywood. This was no movie, however. This was real life, and the scene that played out on the morning of January 29th at the Barrington Plaza apartments was nothing short of terrifying. A 19-year-old man died and 13 other people were injured – 10 civilians and three firefighters – in a fire on the sixth and seventh floors of a 25-story apartment building. The building, which was constructed in 1961 and the scene of another major fire in 2013, was not protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

 

According to media reports, the City of Los Angeles does not require high-rise buildings to be protected by automatic sprinkler systems if they were built prior to 1974. This has led some to ask about NFPA’s position on sprinkler protection for older high-rise buildings. NFPA’s position is established by the requirements in its codes and standards that are developed using an ANSI accredited, open-consensus process in which any person can participate. Two NFPA codes specify sprinkler requirements for existing high-rise buildings: NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. The requirements of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 differ slightly because the two codes have different scopes and different goals and objectives.

 

The scope, goals, and objectives of NFPA 101 are limited to protecting building occupants from the effects of fire and similar emergencies. Building occupants are those who live, work, or otherwise normally occupy a building. Building occupants, in the context of NFPA 101, do not include emergency responders. Because NFPA 101 is concerned only with occupant life safety, protection of neither the building itself nor its contents is considered. If a building has a fire in which all occupants are able to safely evacuate and the building subsequently burns to the ground, the goals and objectives of NFPA 101 are considered to have been satisfied. The life safety requirements of NFPA 101 are based on a building’s occupancy classification (i.e., how a building is used). The Barrington Plaza building would be classified by the current edition of NFPA 101 as an existing apartment building. In addition, any building having a floor level more than 75 ft above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access is a high-rise building; the 25-story building in question meets this criterion.

 

The 2018 edition of NFPA 101 requires existing, high-rise apartment buildings to be protected by automatic sprinkler systems unless one of the specified exemptions exists. Because this requirement applies to existing buildings, it is intended to be applied to any high-rise apartment building that was constructed prior to the adoption of the 2018 edition of the Code, irrespective of the requirements of the code adopted at the time of construction. NFPA 101 does not “grandfather” existing buildings. Two exemptions apply to the mandatory sprinkler requirement: one is if every apartment is provided with exterior exit access (e.g., outside balconies), and the other is if the building is provided with an engineered life safety system (ELSS) designed to compensate for the lack of sprinkler protection and approved by the applicable authority having jurisdiction. ELSSs can be comprised of a combination of partial sprinkler systems, smoke detection systems, smoke control systems, building compartmentation, and other approved systems. An ELSS is an engineered, complex, alternative system that is designed to provide a level of protection essentially equivalent to that afforded by automatic sprinklers. In some cases, building owners might find that the design and installation of a complicated ELSS is cost-prohibitive and the installation of a relatively simple automatic sprinkler system is more cost-effective.

 

Whereas the scope of NFPA 101 is limited to occupant life safety, the scope, goals, and objectives of NFPA 1, Fire Code, include not only occupant life safety, but also emergency responder safety and property protection. For this reason, the high-rise building sprinkler provisions of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 differ. The 2018 edition of NFPA 1 states that all existing high-rise buildings, regardless of occupancy classification or when the building was constructed, must be protected by automatic sprinkler systems, without exception, within 12 years of adoption of the Code by the applicable jurisdiction. NFPA 1 does not offer the ELSS alternative, recognizing the life safety benefits as well as the property saving benefits of automatic sprinkler systems.

 

While neither NFPA 1 nor NFPA 101 has criteria that specifically addresses short-term rental of residential dwellings, it is interesting to note, according to media reports, residents of Barrington Plaza complained about numerous units being used as such with sites like Airbnb. It’s reported that some units would be rented for a night by partiers. Where a building is used for residential purposes on such a transient basis, it starts to have some of the characteristics of a hotel. Codes have different requirements for hotels when compared to apartment buildings recognizing the transient nature of the occupants. The 19-year-old who died in the Barrington Plaza fire was an exchange student from France. Further details haven’t been released so it isn’t known whether he was a short-term renter, if he had a standard lease from the building management, or if he was a visitor. Regardless, the risks associated with hotels and apartment buildings differ, and this is a topic that warrants further study. (A feature article in the July/August 2018 issue of NFPA Journal titled “The Airbnb Challenge” addresses this issue.)

 

Automatic sprinkler systems have proven to be the best defense against fire in high-rise buildings. While the recent fire in Los Angeles was tragic, it had the potential to be catastrophic. I believe the outcome would have been much different had the fire occurred at 2:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. The relatively few numbers of injuries were thanks to the heroic efforts of the members of the Los Angeles Fire Department who selflessly put their lives on the line. They had no other choice, largely because an older high-rise building was grandfathered from requiring a basic fire protection feature like an automatic sprinkler system.

How did I get here?

When you read an average of a half-dozen home fire death stories every day for a month, it changes you. That’s not hyperbole; I did and it changed me. At the conclusion of 2019, I wrote in my #101Wednesdays blog about the year and decade in review in terms of life safety from fire. While there were several significant advances, I pondered whether enough was being done to reduce the number of civilian deaths in home fires. The number has hovered between about 2,500 and 3,000 for the last 20 years or so. This is a significant improvement over the number of deaths recorded in prior decades, largely attributable to the proliferation of smoke alarms; but it’s not getting any better. I had to ask myself, “Is this good enough?”

To help me understand the problem, I assigned a project to myself. On January 1, I started scouring the internet for media reports of home fire deaths and tweeted the results each day with a running tally (you can see them in my Twitter feed at @NFPAGregH – see the hashtag #homefiredeaths). The U.S. Fire Administration’s website was a valuable resource; between their data and my findings, I was able to provide a daily summary of who was dying in home fires every day in the U.S. My goal was to educate myself and to raise awareness. I did so until this past Monday, January 27, when the task became too much; the numbers were so high that it was affecting my ability to perform the functions NFPA pays me to do and was cutting into my nights and weekends. Reading all the stories of loss and tragedy also had an emotional impact on me. I needed to be reminded of why I came to work for NFPA almost 24 years ago. Yes, overseeing the development process for codes like NFPA 101 is important work and ultimately leads to a safer built environment. But I believe there’s more that we – I – can do to make a real difference, and the home fire death problem is certainly an area in which there is room to make a difference.

While each story I read over the past month was tragic, there were several that stood out in my mind. This journey actually started a few days before the new year. On December 27th, a spectacular fire destroyed a Concord, MA mansion. This fire garnered tremendous media attention despite the fact that no one was killed or injured. On the same day, a father and his two young daughters died in a fire in their modest apartment in Hemet, CA; this fire was barely a blip on the media radar. The disparity in coverage was glaring.

On January 5th, two men died in a house fire in Fitchburg, MA. The fire was blamed on an overloaded power strip (or relocatable power tap in code parlance); coincidentally, the latest #FireCodefridays blog addresses electrical safety requirements in NFPA 1, Fire Code. This fire stood out to me because I grew up in the adjacent town and was a member of that town’s on-call fire department in the 80s and 90s. We ran mutual aid to Fitchburg quite often; that’s where I caught most of my “big fires.” Because of my personal experience, this fire hit close to home.

On January 8th, an elderly woman died in a fire in Ellabel, GA caused by a clogged dryer vent. This fire stuck out for several reasons: one was because the victim was elderly, as were several other victims I documented over the month. Another was because the fire was in a manufactured home (or “mobile home” as commonly referred to by the media). Manufactured home fires and elderly fire victims are apparently not uncommon. If you search my Twitter feed for #manufacturedhomefire and #olderadultfiredeath, you will find several occurrences. Another fire in a manufactured home in rural Kentucky killed a grandmother and three children the day before.

Another house fire in Kentucky left a mother and her six-year-old daughter dead on January 17th. This fire was noteworthy because it was reported that the home had no working smoke alarms; this is also not an uncommon occurrence (search my Twitter feed for #noworkingsmokealarms). It’s unimaginable to me that people still don’t have working smoke alarms. This will be a topic for a future post in this series.

On January 20th, a fire in a Bronx, NY high-rise apartment building killed an 85-year-old retired NYPD police officer. Although not reported, it is presumed that sprinklers were not installed in the apartment of fire origin. The combination of a high-rise building, residential occupancy, elderly residents, and lack of automatic sprinklers seems to be a “perfect storm” with regard to the potential for large numbers of fatalities. Disaster was averted in this fire thanks to the strong work by the FDNY.

The home fire death problem appears to stem from a combination of lack of protection (sprinklers and smoke alarms) and an apathetic public. Codes like NFPA 101 can prescribe minimum protection requirements, but we can’t regulate people’s attitudes towards fire; this is, I believe, the biggest hurdle to be cleared if we’re going to lower the numbers of fire deaths. In this series, I don’t expect to have a lot of answers; rather, I intend to ask questions to stimulate discussions to help hone in on the things we can change to have the biggest impact. I figure I’ve got about another 15 years left in this career. It won’t mean much in 2035 to have my name in a bunch of Life Safety Codes if 2,500 to 3,000 people are still dying each year in U.S. home fires as they have been for the last 20 years.

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay safe.

The views expressed in #101Wednesdays are my own and do not reflect the views of NFPA.

Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to www.nfpa.org/101 and click on “FREE ACCESS.”

Follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH 

It's not often that the National Electrical Code (NEC) gets a requirement aimed at protecting an individual exposed to electrical hazards under the most extreme worst-case scenario. After all, the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity; practical safeguarding meaning that the NEC isn’t really intended to protect in the event of something like a natural disaster or other unforeseen emergency situation. Then came the 2020 edition of the NEC and the new section 230.85. It requires an emergency disconnect to be installed in a readily accessible location on the outside of one- and two-family homes.

 

This new requirement is really the product of multiple electrical industry experts coming together to solve a problem. And, it's one of the best examples I’ve seen in recent years of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem in action. I had the great opportunity to sit down recently with Matt Paiss, the International Association of Fire Fighters principal representative on Code Making Panel 4 and the driver behind this specific change. We were joined by NFPA Board of Directors’ member, Kwame Cooper, a retired assistant fire chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Watch our interview below. As you listen, you'll see how this change came to be, how this revision process truly demonstrates the essence of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, and brings the true meaning of collaboration, to light.

 

 

In case you weren't aware, this change was actually recognized during the 2017 revision process - there was a problem with the current standard of practice when it came to emergency responders who were responding to emergencies at dwelling units. Mainly, the issue revolved around how best to kill power to the building to begin dealing appropriately to the emergency, such as a house fire.The options were:

 

  • Pull the meter
  • Wait for the utility company to come disconnect the power
  • Leave the power on and try to be careful

 

All of these options have their own drawbacks for emergency personnel. For most emergency responders, the thought of pulling the meter on their own was out of the question as most responders lack the qualification to safely perform this task. Plus, even after the meter is out, there are still exposed live parts on the line side of the meter that still present a shock hazard. So, in many parts of the country this option was not an option. This left emergency personnel, such as firefighters, with just two options. Either they could take their chances and start the process with the wiring system still energized, or wait for the utility company to show up. However, electrical utilities do not have the same response time requirements and often can take hours to be on site to disconnect power. If a home is on fire, every second counts and by the time the power company arrives, the home could be a total loss. This left many emergency personnel with the only realistic option of doing their job while still being exposed to electrical hazards.

 

The approach that was originally proposed as a part of the 2017 revision cycle was to require the service disconnecting means to be installed outside of the home or some other way to remotely operate the service disconnect from the outside of the home. This was met with very strong opposition and skepticism as many felt that requiring the service equipment to be outside would not be viable in certain parts of the country, and, a remote operating device might not be operable when needed, for instance, if the control wiring were to be damaged in the fire. This led to the various sides of the discussion being brought back to the table in between cycles to figure out a way to address the concerns. It was also important to find a way that emergency responders could safely disconnect the power from the home and do their job without fear of being shocked.

 

I’m really pleased to say that the final outcome of all of these discussions has left installers and home builders with solid options of how the process can be done. It's also our hope that it’ll bring peace of mind to the emergency response community.

 

As this requirement evolves over the next few cycles, it will be interesting to track the data and see the positive impact on the safety of first responders that this revision brings to the table. After all, we depend on this community every day to keep us safe from a whole list of hazards; it’s time we return the favor and do our part to protect them.

Special thanks to Val Ziavras, Fire Protection Engineer at NFPA and Staff Liaison to the Fire Code Technical Committee, for writing this week’s Fire Code Fridays blog. 

 

A recent viral video has been causing some serious problems in Massachusetts this week and is now gaining national attention. The so-called “outlet challenge” started as a TikTok video that “challenges” kids to partially plug a phone charger into an outlet and then slide a penny down the wall onto the exposed prongs. The result is flying sparks. Some of those sparks have actually caused fires. I’ve heard of at least three fires in Massachusetts, two of which were in schools caused by kids attempting the challenge. The Massachusetts State Fire Marshal issued an advisory on Tuesday to all fire department urging them to talk about the dangers related to this video in hopes of preventing more fires. As the advisory suggests, talking to kids and teens about the dangers of playing with electricity is critical.  An informed public, of all ages, is also a key component to the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.  More from our public education team on this topic can be read about here!

 

 

While something like the “outlet challenge” isn’t specifically covered by a fire code, it’s a reminder to us all to never neglect the basics of electrical safety. As Staff Liaison to the Fire Code, one of the worst things is walking into a meeting or conference space and seeing the power strips plugged into each other (daisy chaining). It is usually done because the outlets are not convenient to where people are going to be sitting and more power is needed temporarily than what is permanently installed. However, daisy chaining is clearly prohibited by the Fire Code. For compliance, each power strip should be plugged into a permanently installed outlet.

 

Section 11.1 of NFPA 1 provides provisions for basic electrical safety. Topics addressed in this section include relocatable power taps, multiplug adapters, extension cords, and the building disconnect. The approval of new electrical installations or approval of modifications to an existing electrical system is a function typically performed by an electrical inspector or other building code enforcement official using the requirements of NFPA 70National Electrical Code.

 

Power strips are commonly used for computers, printers, and other electronics at workstations, offices, and dormitories, where additional electrical power receptacles are needed. During inspections, power taps that are plugged into other power taps (daisy-chained) should be removed, because such arrangement is prohibited. Relocatable power taps are for temporary use and should not take the place of permanently installed receptacles. In addition, power strips should not be connected to extension cords to extend their reach. Ideally, where extension cords are used for other than temporary purposes, additional permanent receptacles should be installed to accommodate the power strips.

 

While many would argue portable space heaters don’t necessarily fall under electrical safety, the hazards associated with them are also worth mentioning, especially during the winter months. Requirements for portable electric heaters can be found in Section 11.5.3. These devices are used in many locations, including a common used under desks in offices. Although placing a heater under a desk or table lessens the chance of the heater being easily overturned, the heater also can easily be forgotten. A heater that is left on for an extended time can overheat combustible materials that might also be stored under the desk or table. Managers of facilities that allow the use of electric space heaters should remind employees to shut them off at the end of the day and keep combustible material away from the heater.

 

In addition, because of the amount of electric current drawn by space heaters, electric heaters should be used only where they can be plugged directly into appropriate receptacles or extension cords of adequate current capacity. (See 11.1.5 for requirements addressing extension cords.) The AHJ is permitted to prohibit the use of space heaters where an undue danger to life or property exists. The AHJ can use past inspection findings, such as portable heaters that were left turned on and unattended, fire incidents, and other reasons to prohibit the use of such heaters.

 

Understanding basic electrical safety practices can be instrumental in preventing fires in residences, hotels, dormitories and offices, among other locations.  For additional information, check out NFPA's resources on electrical safety!

 

IT’S A BIG WORLD. LET’S PROTECT IT TOGETHER.

Don't miss another #FireCodeFridays blog! Get notifications straight to your email inbox by subscribing here! And you can always follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA

Thanks for reading!

 

While the methods and materials used to install safe electrical systems have improved considerably throughout the over 125-year history of the National Electrical Code (NEC), we know there’s still much work to be done to address the fact that every year, according to NFPA research, electrical-related malfunctions are responsible for an average of 61,000 fires, over $2 billion in direct property losses, and 432 deaths.NEC

 

To help address this issue, it’s important that states enact and enforce fire, electrical, building, and life safety codes and standards, and utilize the latest codes and standards that establish minimum levels of safety to protect people and property. As I write this, I’m pleased to report that the state of Massachusetts’ recent update of the Massachusetts Electrical Code to contain the requirements of the 2020 edition of the NEC (plus MA-specific amendments) is the first state to implement the latest version of the code. Read the press release.

 

Recent polling by the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute shows that people feel the government should be held accountable for ensuring safety requirements are up-to-date for their constituents. They assume it is currently happening. But in many cases it is not. Massachusetts’ efforts, however, demonstrate a true understanding of the code’s vital public safety mission and its value to the electrical community and its residents.

 

In today’s fast-paced world, a changing infrastructure, new technology, evolving risks, and competing priorities all put pressure on maintaining strong fire and life safety protections. It’s critical that all levels of government take their responsibility for keeping their communities safe from fire, electrical, and other hazards, seriously. Massachusetts serves as an important example of this. It’s our belief, and hope, that other states will follow in Massachusetts’ footsteps. It is what citizens expect of them.

 

For additional information, check out the NEC enforcement and usage map on NFPA’s website, and find out where the NEC is currently in effect.

 

 

This blog was going to cover protecting employees from electrical hazards, but the subject has been changed to reflect the latest news about NFPA 70E.

The Second Draft of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace has been posted on the NFPA 70E Doc Info Page under the Next Edition tab. Please review the document since it is what will to be voted on at the 2020 Conference and Expo in Orlando. You have until February 19, 2020 to submit a Notice of Intent to Make A Motion (NITMAM) if you feel the Second Draft requires further revision. You should review the Regulations and Policies and the standards development process if you intend to submit a NITMAM. 

It is important that you play a role in the development of the standard. Safety in the workplace can only be improved through the benefit of your knowledge. What you see online is what will become the 2021 Edition if no Certified Amending Motions (CAM) are presented on the floor in Orlando. You will be complying with the requirements for the next 3 years. It is your standard, be part of it.

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

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NEC Connect newsletter to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

Next time: When to protect an employee from electrical hazards.

Please Note: Any comments, suggested text changes, or technical issues related to NFPA Standards posted or raised in this communication are not submissions to the NFPA standards development process and therefore will not be considered by the technical committee(s) responsible for NFPA Standards development.  To learn how to participate in the NFPA standards development process and submit proposed text for consideration by the responsible technical committee(s), please go to www.nfpa.org/submitpi for instructions.

 

At-risk populations such as the elderly, school-age children, those who are hard of hearing or alcohol-impaired do not fully benefit from conventional smoke alarm alerts, particularly during sleeping hours. Research has been conducted to develop performance requirements to optimize the waking effectiveness for alarm and signaling systems to meet the needs of these at-risk groups.

 

One major finding from experimental tests is that the 520 Hz square wave T-3 sound was the most effective signal to awaken at-risk populations. However, the implementation of low frequency sounders into battery-operated smoke alarms has proven difficult due to the fact that they require up to four times the amount of power as traditional sounders.

 

On Wednesday, February 5, 12:30-2:00pm EST, the Fire Protection Research Foundation will be hosting a free webinar, "Review of Audible Alarm Signal Waking Effectiveness," which will provide a detailed review of the available information and data on this topic, which may be used to justify a reduction in the sound pressure level for 520 Hz sounding devices while maintaining superior waking performance to comparable installed high frequency sounding devices.

 

2020 Research Foundation webinar series sponsors: American Wood Council; Edwards Fire & Life Safety; Johnson Controls; Telgian Engineering and Consulting; and The Zurich Services Corporation.

 

Register for the webinar today!

Visit www.nfpa.org/webinars for more upcoming NFPA webinars and archives. 

NFPA 110 is going through its first substantial change in decades and the change will affect those who typically were not subject to NFPA 110's requirements. The different uses of fuel cells have increased as the cells became a viable power source option. One such use is as an emergency power source. The National Electrical Code(NEC) has permitted fuel cells as an emergency source since 2005.  NFPA 99, Health Care Facility Code added fuel cells as an acceptable emergency source in 2012. The scope of NFPA 110 is the performance of emergency and standby power systems providing an alternate source of emergency electrical power to loads in buildings and facilities in the event that the primary power source fails.

Currently, there are no NFPA 110 requirements addressing fuel cells for that application.

The performance of an emergency power system is critical for life safety. With the increased interest is utilizing fuel cells, general installation requirements for fuel cells are inadequate just as general requirements for a generator were inadequate. There needs to be specific requirements to address issues to help ensure proper fuel cell function during an emergency.  To that end, the NFPA 110 Technical Committee is seeking public and industry comments for the next edition of the standard. The intent is to provide performance requirements similar to those for generators.

Much work is being conducted to have the requirements fleshed out for the Second Draft meeting. The Technical Committee has drafted Committee Input No. 9 (CI-9) to solicit comments on the performance requirements specific to a fuel cell used as an emergency system. Please review CI-9 through the online portal.

Comments can be made until May 6, 2020 by clicking the link to Public Comment.

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