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A better understanding of NFPA 70E: electrical work related fatalities and injuries

Blog Post created by ccoache Employee on Nov 26, 2018
It has been over a year since I summarized the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) fatal electric injury statistics. You can read my blog about it here. To refresh your memory there currently is an annual average of 192 fatal electrical injuries (U.S.A.). This accounts for about 12% of the fatalities in the occupations generally covered by NFPA electrical standards. An American employee is killed by electricity every day and half of work. Luckily, many more of you make it home than do not. However, that does not mean that you returned home unscathed. You made it home but where you uninjured? Here are some non-fatal injury statistics between 2012 and 2016. You can read the summarized NFPA report online.
About 9,760 (2012-2016) of you in the U.S. were injured through direct and indirect exposure to electricity. “Direct exposure to electricity” is contact with a power source, such as touching a live electrical wire. “Indirect exposure to electricity” refers to injuries resulting from contact with material that is unintentionally conducting electricity. This is an average of 1,952 injuries per year which due to a downward trend is lower than the decade average of 2,155 per year (2007-2016). Although you escaped being a fatality, nearly eight of you are injured every work day. This does not mean you returned to work the next day. Nearly one half of your injuries resulted in 6 or more days away from work. Putting it another way, your reported electrical injuries resulted in considerable lost work time (41% of injuries required more than two weeks away from work).
Electrical injuries are experienced by all occupations including those not necessarily associated with exposure to electrical hazards While employees in installation, maintenance, repair, and construction occupations account for the largest number of injuries, a substantial number of injuries involve other occupations, including service, production, transportation and material moving, and sales and related occupations. Electrical parts and materials accounted for 59% of the injuries. Furniture or fixtures (5%), and hand tools (5%) are on the other end of the specified injury source list. 26% (2,540) of exposure injuries involved a voltage of 220 volts or less and 14% (1,400 injuries) involved a voltage of greater than 220 volts. Voltage was unspecified in the remainder of the injuries. An interesting statistic is that 16% of the injured were female whereas that group suffered 1% of the fatal electrical injuries. 
A much higher share of injuries from direct exposure to electricity resulted from contact with parts and materials (67%) than for indirect exposure (41%). This is the primary statistic that NFPA 70E strives to reduce. In the workplace, direct contact to exposed, energized parts is specifically addressed in NFPA 70E. First, it must be justified for you to cross the restricted approach boundary while the circuit is energized rather than in an electrically safe work condition. Second, if you do cross the boundary you must be properly insulated from the energized part by PPE. This requirement, if followed, would have prevented many of your direct contact injuries. Properly maintained equipment under normal operating conditions, as required for general electrical safety, may have had addressed many of your indirect exposure injuries.
Shock and electrocution have been a known electrical hazard since the beginning. Insulation as protection from electrical shock has existed since the start. It is troubling that 120 years later these injuries are still occurring. Yes, some of these injuries were completely unexpected. However, an injury should not be seen as unexpected when you are knowingly exposed to electrical hazards. It is very probable that many of you were injured because you were not provided proper training or an inexpensive, properly insulted tool when performing properly justified energized tasks.
These injuries are only those that are reported. Shocks and near-death experiences are very often not reported. Unreported injuries would be a magnitude or two higher than these reported injuries. Electrical injuries can be reduced through the use of proper safety procedures, training, personal protective equipment, and other methods. It’s important for you to receive appropriate training for the tasks assigned to you. You may have returned home today but were you injured or have a near-death experience?
For more information on 70E, read my entire 70E blog series on Xchange
Next time: Are you a host employer or a contract employer.
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.

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