Christopher Coache

A better understanding of NFPA 70E: what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says about your safety

Blog Post created by Christopher Coache Employee on Nov 9, 2017


If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that I occasionally mention that unsafe work practices may add you to the statistics. Although there are many more injuries than fatalities, the statistics I refer to are the fatalities because on those days family members didn’t realize that the person would not be coming home from work.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles all types of data regarding the workplace. There are many reports generated. The database goes on and on. Many aspects overlap and sometimes it is hard to pin down a single, pertinent statistic. My caveat is that I am not a data cruncher, analyst, or anything else along that line. I have done my best to find what I thought is appropriate for this blog. I was unable to find BLS data on arc-flash fatalities. All the numbers are the average of fatalities over the last dozen years (2003-2015).

There is an average of 5,122 fatalities annually in the workplace. There are three BLS categories that typically fall under the scope of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. These are construction and extraction occupations; installation, maintenance, and repair occupations; and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations. These three categories accounted for nearly one-third (1,615) of all fatalities. Half of these fatalities occurred in the construction and extraction occupations under which electricians averaged 81 fatalities. Nearly one-quarter of these electrician fatalities where residential electrical contractors. Electrical contractors accounted for an average of 75 and plumbing, heating and HVAC accounted for another 60 per year. Under the installation, maintenance and repair category, electrical and electronic mechanics, installers and repairers averaged 20 fatalities which is less than those involved with HVAC at 25 fatalities and industrial machinery at 74. General maintenance and repair workers averaged 98 fatalities per year. For a comparison, the utilities averaged 23 fatalities in power generation, transmission, and distribution.

These fatalities are from all causes. However, according to the BLS data an average of 192 workers were killed from exposure to electricity. This is 4% of all workplace fatalities and 12% of the fatalities from the three BLS categories. This could have been considerably lower if the requirements of NFPA 70E had been followed. There is an encouraging trend in that there was a decrease from 250 fatalities per year at the beginning of the decade to 151 annually towards the end. It might be a coincidence but this decrease has occurred as NFPA 70E has gained traction throughout the industry. The good news is 100 more workers returned home at the end of the day in 2015 than in 2003. Although this is of no consolation to those other 150 families.

A shift in the reporting process occurred in 2011. Data began to collect on the voltage present when a fatality occurred. Annually, 220 volts or less has been fatal to 31 workers whereas voltages greater than 220 volts have been fatal to 110 workers. Electrocution has been a known electrical hazard since the beginning and was most likely the cause of death at 220 volts or less. It is troubling that barring an electrically safe work condition, it is probable that many of these workers lost their life for the lack of an inexpensive, properly insulted tool. The electrical parts involved in the fatalities, in descending order, are: power lines, transformers, and converters; building wiring; switchboards, switches and fuses; generators; power cords, extension cords, and electrical cords; and motors. With the increase in popularity in energy storage, since 2011 an average of one worker has been killed when batteries have been involved.

You may look at these numbers while thinking that only 4% of the fatalities were within the scope of NFPA 70E. You may think more workers return home safely each day compared to those that do not. You might consider that 192 electrical fatalities out of the thousands of workers in this industry gives you pretty good odds of returning home. With about 250 working days in a year this means that every day and a half a worker is killed by electricity in the workplace. When they went to work, how many of these thought they would not be seeing their family again? It doesn’t matter that there are long odds against you becoming a fatality. What does matter is that there is no need to take any chance that you will not return home today.

Remember that these are fatality statistics. Reported injuries are an order of magnitude higher. There is no estimate of unreported injuries or near misses (electric shock). Physical and psychological injuries often accompany an electrical injury whether it is reported or not. It is astounding that electrical fatalities and injuries are often easily prevented. Why would you take any chance at becoming a statistic?

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

Next time: What would you do?