During Electrical Safety Month, NFPA Introduces Training that Provides First-Hand Look at How to Develop an Electrical Safety Program

Blog Post created by dvigstol Employee on May 21, 2019

Over the last couple of years, NFPA has been working on the best way to deliver a new kind of NPFA 70E® training. Training that doesn’t just tell you what is in the book but rather, training that gives attendees a first-hand look at what it's like to develop an electrical safety program. To this end, NFPA’s Developing an Electrical Safety Program Based on NFPA 70E® gives participants practice writing a program based on a fictional facility, Belstol University. It includes such ideas as, building the electrical safety committee out to see just who you want to have on that team and why; stepping through what principles your program must be based on and how you will measure up against them to ensure your program is working; and building out a procedure, performing a risk assessment and how to make a program successful. After all, you can have the best program around but if your employees don’t or won’t get behind the plan, it is doomed from the beginning.

First, a little about this class. It was developed out of a need expressed by facility managers groups, in particular, folks in the higher education realm. But this doesn’t mean the workshop is just for them. Hospital building operations staff have also been a big part of the attendees in this class because this is a 24/7/365 kind of job, as well as the facility management crowd.

So you may be asking … how do I write a program when I’m not intimately knowledgeable about the facility I’m building the program for? Well, there is some background info at the beginning of the day, and there is plenty of materials in the participant workbook, but to be honest, not a single person in the room has set foot on "this" college campus. At the same time, because we are NFPA and not a consultant in the world of building electrical safety programs, NFPA will not tell you what your program needs to look like for your facility. So the workshop is intended to play in the world of a fictional facility where questions needed to be answered in order to go through the full process of developing an actual electrical safety program for Belstol University.

electrical safety

Here’s what we came up with. For one, the activities still represent the process that it takes to develop a program in your own facility, and they help the attendees understand all the pieces that need to go into a program. The attendees also get practice in what it takes to come up with the principles, procedures, and the controls that a program is built on. But the activities are where the difference lies. We’ve structured the workshop in a way that challenges participants to think differently. Starting with the existing program, we want participants to see how a program can have holes in it and then understand why not having key components can lead to issues down the road. We are challenging attendees to build out their own idea(s) of what must be included in a program and to get in the habit of asking questions like: Why is this idea important; what does the idea bring to the table when we think of an electrical safety program; is the idea critical to the success of the program?

In a recent workshop, we challenged the group to think this way and the ensuing conversation was great. A comment was made during an activity on justifying energized work that replacing a ballast in a row of end-to-end fluorescent luminaires is justified because turning off the lights would impede the illumination requirement for a means of egress. Is it? We asked why. Why we are willing to expose an employee to such an electrical hazard? Is there a better way to do this? This one hit home particularly hard with me as I lost a friend last year to this very issue. We asked "what would you do if you lost power and the lights were out?" How do you maintain the egress lighting when that happens? The answer was: "Easy! That is what the backup emergency lights are for." They were okay with the “frog eyes” on the wall providing egress illumination when the power goes down, but when it’s a maintenance task we need to subject an employee to possible death to keep the lights on? There had to be a better way.

Needless to say, we came around on this one. It started a bigger discussion about how when you are performing energized work or writing a process for determining justification for energized work, we should start by thinking about what the backup plan is. What happens during an unplanned shutdown? What would you do with the patients in ICU if the power went down and the generator didn’t start? What would you do if the worker makes a mistake during justified energized work and causes an arc flash that destroys the electrical distribution to the ICU? Everyone thought they knew exactly what they would do in that situation. Protect the patient, get them to another wing, maybe another hospital, set up a temp ICU prior to starting work just in case you need to move them. All great ideas, but we asked ourselves, why can’t we move the patients first, so the work can be performed de-energized? Why isn’t this written into the safety plan? Hmmm, it kind of makes you think about some things, doesn’t it?

After the workshop was over, one of the attendees sent me an email who said he liked how the workshop had challenged a new way of thinking. This individual came into the workshop hoping to learn how to put some “meat on the bones” of their existing program, but afterward he realized, there was still work to be done to the "bones" of their program.

And this is what this workshop is meant to do, that is what we set out to accomplish with this program. Getting people to think, getting people to ask themselves the difficult questions and not take the easy way around the safest answer. Participants should walk away with questions, and while it seems counterintuitive to walk away feeling as though you just went on an incomplete journey, we want attendees to go back to their own facility and write the ending themselves. They need to finish the story using their own buildings, using their own electrical safety team, and using their own ESP. That is how we change the way an electrical safety program gets developed with one simple eight-hour workshop. That is how we change the world: one program at a time.

The next workshop is scheduled as a pre-conference educational event at NFPA’s Conference & Expo in San Antonio, TX on June 15th. There is limited seating in this one due to the workshop style of instruction. So if this type of workshop interests you, please check out our webpage for additional information and register before it fills up. This workshop works well for building operations and facility management folks as well as electrical construction contractors.

I can’t wait for you all to experience this new type of training from NFPA and we look forward to bringing you more options along these same lines. Until next time, stay safe and remember, it is National Electrical Safety Month, spread the word that it pays to be safe!