NFPA 70E Series: Where's the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)?
It is coming up on Labor Day. A day for honoring the American worker. It seems an appropriate time to launch a new blog series on NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. If nothing else, NFPA 70E is about protecting the worker.
Until I run out of topics to have a tirade about, I intend to offer some personal observations that have been made since I have become the staff liaison for NFPA 70E. I expect these to be posted every few weeks for several months. Some may be short. Some will be lengthy. It is expected that you will not agree with all of my views especially since some will take a very simplistic view to make a point. Hopefully they will provide a different angle on some issues you face and something to think about when using NFPA 70E. My ultimate goal is to make you think before signing an energized work permit.
Recent conversations with users of NFPA 70E have lead me to the realization that many do not know who is responsible for enforcing the requirements. Unlike other standards like the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), the Life Safety Code® (NFPA 101®) or the Standard for the Installation of Fire Sprinklers (NFPA® 13), NFPA 70E is not an adopted or legislated standard. It does not have a governmental authority for enforcing the requirements.
Many believe that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for enforcing NFPA 70E. While OSHA regulations provide the law that American workers be provided a safe work environment, it is not responsible for enforcing NFPA 70E. OSHA enforces the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). OSHA expects that you have complied with the law. They typically do not audit every facility in the United States of America prior to an employee conducting any task. They may use NFPA 70E to show where your program is lacking after an incident. Using NFPA 70E requires proactive application of the requirements to be effective so OSHA is not really the AHJ. An AHJ is broadly defined as “an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.”
Consider the analogy that there are laws against stealing. You might get caught your first time or your hundredth time. You steal
things for years or are never caught. Does this negate the need to actually follow the law? Does this mean there is no enforcement? The court system provides punishment if you happen to get caught violating the law. Likewise, OSHA has laws for providing a safe work environment for your employees. You decide to ignore the laws requiring safe work practices. You put your employees at
risk. Hundreds of minor injuries or near misses occur. Nothing is reported. Ultimately there is a serious injury or a fatality. OSHA punishes you for not following the law. Did OSHA make you comply with the worker safety law? Did the court system or police department make you comply with the law against theft? No, they did not. Each reacted to you not following the law. They did not proactively ensure that you actually follow the law. Only you can do that.
One way to proactively address worker safety is to utilize NFPA 70E to assist in providing a work environment that has followed the guidelines of a national consensus standard when your electrical safety program is established and when it is being utilized throughout the facility. You would not only be proactively applying practices and procedures to minimize the risk of electrical injury to your employee but proactively setting workplace guidelines that help you comply with the federal mandate that your employees not be subjected to undue risk of electrical injuries.
The saying is “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Ignorance of industry and national standards is also no excuse. If an industry has identified hazards and risks, and implemented methods to minimize those, it is expected you will apply them. NFPA 70E is written for the recognized electrical hazards in the workplace and ways to avoid them. Only the AHJ can proactively verify that employees are
protected from those hazards.
Who is the AHJ for NFPA 70E. The answer is YOU!
Next time: I will go into what that statement means.