The 2018 Edition of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® was issued by the NFPA Standards Council on August 1, 2017, with an effective date of August 21, 2017; this new edition supersedes all previous editions. This edition was approved as an American National Standard on August 21, 2017. As important to employee safety as NFPA 70E is, it is not a legislated standard like NFPA 70, National Electrical Code® or NFPA 101, Life Safety Code®. Although, NFPA 70E is included in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as a United States of America consensus standard for electrical safety in the workplace, this most recent edition will not be specifically called out until the CFR is revised. So, if no one mandates that you use a standard, why would you use the new edition? If you follow a previous edition and do not have to comply with the newest one for some time, why should you use it now? In the case of NFPA 70E, the answer is to protect your employees from electrical hazards to the best of your ability.
First, safety standards are not changed to become “less safe”. The changes in a consensus standard are driven by the public and industry. Changes to the standard are to increase the electrical safety for the employee. Going back to a standard being the minimum set of requirements, there is nothing preventing you from implementing a more stringent safety program. If the requirements in the newer edition are “safer” you can and should implement them even if you have to use the older edition. Even if what you implement is not in any edition, you are not prohibited from applying something if it exceeds the standard requirements.
Second, many of you will state that you are mandated to follow the previous edition of a standard. Again that may be mandated but see the previous paragraph. It may require providing some education to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) who often expects to see conformance to the minimum set of requirements. No AHJ should require that you to do something “less safe” than you want to do. However, since NFPA 70E is typically not mandated by a governmental authority, most often it is you or your employer who determines which edition will be enforced or it is you who is the AHJ for electrical safety in your workplace.
Third, there are changes to technology, an understanding gained about a particular issue, improvements in processes, etc. that drive change in a safety standard. The most recent edition addresses any of those that are brought up during the standard’s revision cycle. For example, the 1988 edition did not include arc flash as a hazard. The 1995 edition introduced concerns about an arc-flash injury. Since then the arc-flash phenomena has been researched and changes implemented to better protect the employee from this hazard. If you only use previous editions it might be years before your employees benefit from not only being protected from an identified hazard but being better protected as knowledge is gained over the years. Not using the current edition may be placing your employees at a risk that is not necessary. It is hard to explain away an injury from a hazard that industry had identified and provided guidance on protecting from.
Fourth, changes are often made to a standard for it to be easier to use. Requirements are clarified, revised, or edited to make them easier to understand and implement. For example, Article 120 has been reorganized in the new edition to provide a logical sequence of setting a policy for implementing an electrically safe work condition (ESWC) program through the steps of establishing an ESWC.
Fifth, your electrical safety work program and the field work of employees must be audited on a regular basis. Ultimately, these audits serve to determine if employees are being properly protected from electrical hazards. Implementing new concepts or requirements from the most recent edition as part of the process will help keep you current with what industry considers to be a necessity.
Lastly, a consensus standard is improved by you. Using the most recent edition gives you the opportunity to determine if further refinements or new requirements are necessary to achieve the goal of protecting employees from electrical hazards. You can then submit an input to the technical committee so that the next edition can improve on the safety for those employees.
Safety standards are not revised for the sake of revision. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an annual average of192 electrocutions occur over the course of 250 working days, which equates to a worker death every day and a half. Consensus standards are revised by the public, industry and individuals who have the passion to make the workplace safer. If you need motivation to work towards this goal, think of every employee that you put at risk to be a beloved family member.
Next time: The ten commandments of electrical safety.