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2020

A well-developed safety program, in this case an electrical safety program (ESP), is crucial for protecting the most important part of any corporation; employees. The ESP must involve all levels of employees in order to identify and correct issues. The goal of the ESP should be to proactively address workplace hazards which is a more effective approach than reacting to injuries and fatalities caused by those hazards. An employer is required by NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace to implement and document an overall ESP that directs activity appropriate to the risk associated with electrical hazards.

For those who need to start an ESP, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration identifies 10 steps to help get the ball rolling:

  1. Always set safety and health as the top priority – assure employees that getting them home safely is a priority.
  2. Lead by example – make safety part of your interaction with employees and practice safety yourself.
  3. Implement a reporting system – encourage reporting of any safety issue without fear of reprisal.
  4. Provide training - train employees on how to identify and control hazards.
  5. Conduct inspections - Inspect the workplace with employees and ask for about their concerns.
  6. Collect hazard control ideas - Ask employees for improvement ideas and follow up on their ideas.
  7. Implement hazard controls – Task employees with choosing, implementing, and evaluating their solutions.
  8. Address emergencies - Identify foreseeable emergency scenarios and develop what to do in each case.
  9. Seek input on workplace changes - Before making significant changes, consult with employees to identify potential issues.
  10. Make improvements - Set a regular time to discuss safety and health and identify ways of improving the program.

 

An ESP must also be documented. Once you’ve started down the path with the above 10 steps, NFPA 70E lists specific items that must be part of an ESP. Remember that a standard is a minimum set of requirements and much more can be included. An ESP may be more effective when it is implemented as part of an overall occupational health and safety management system. NFPA 70E requires that the following items be addressed by an ESP:

 

  1. Inspection – Safety relies on verifying that that newly installed or modified electrical equipment or systems complies with applicable installation codes and standards prior to being placed into service.
  2. Condition of Maintenance – Electrical safety is greatly impacted by the condition of maintenance of electrical equipment and systems.
  3. Awareness and Self-Discipline – Employees must be instilled with an awareness of the potential electrical hazards and the self-discipline to control their own safety when working around electrical hazards.
  4. Principles – The EPS must identify the principles upon which it is based.
  5. Controls – The EPS must identify the controls by which it is measured and monitored.
  6. Procedures – Procedures detail the tasks to be conducted. Documented procedures must be in place before work is started by employees exposed to an electrical hazard.
  7. Risk Assessment Procedure – Procedures for shock and arc flash risk assessments procedures must documented.
  8. Job Safety Planning and Job Briefing - Before starting each job that involves exposure to electrical hazards, a job safety plan and a job must be conducted.
  9. Incident Investigations – Elements for electrical incident investigation must be included and should address incidents that do not result in injury.
  10. Auditing – A method for auditing the ESP, as well as field audits of employee performance of tasks must be included.

 

It is always a good idea to begin with a basic program then let it grow. Continuous improvement is important. By achieving modest goals, monitoring performance, evaluating outcomes, and implementing improvements, higher levels of safety can be achieved.

 

By using NFPA 70E and visiting the OSHA web page at www.osha. gov/shpguidelines, you should be able to develop a well-thought out electrical safety program. The main goal of a safety program is to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities. Remember, electrical safety doesn’t only affect the employer and the employee, but the employee’s family burdened with the suffering and financial hardship cause by injuries and fatalities.

 

For additional information and resources related to NFPA 70E, check out our blog series on NFPA Xchange.

It will come as no surprise to women in the fire service but the number of female firefighters in the U.S. remains relatively low, according to the most recent U.S. Fire Department Profile from NFPA. The newest data was released today on the heels of a Los Angeles Times piece about that city’s fire department falling short on their 2020 female hiring goal; and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announcing that, for the first time in history, women have surpassed the number of men working in America.

 

The new NFPA report provides an overview of 29,705 local and municipal fire departments in the country; and estimates that in 2018, only 93,700, or eight percent, of the 1,115,000 firefighters in the United States were female. More specifically, 15,200 or four percent of career firefighters and 78,500 volunteer firefighters or 11 percent were women.

When you look at how these numbers stack up against other roles on the front line, the fire service still lags behind. Comparatively, 13 percent of police officers or detectives, 21 percent of paramedics or EMTs, and 20 percent of the U.S. military are females (20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and almost eight percent of the Marine Corps).

 

There have been positive signs of progress lately, however, with women taking on lead roles and making historic strides in their communities. For example:

 

 

After seeing the new report, Amy Hanifan, president of Women in Fire said, “Today’s fire service plays a critical role in protecting people and property from a myriad of challenges. That role is enhanced when we prioritize the hiring and promotion of diverse candidates, including female firefighters, to be reflective of our communities and the overall US labor pool. It is refreshing to see positive signs of change in the fire service, and promising that there is a desire to cultivate even more change in the future.”

 

Women in Fire is an organization of women and for women — but not for women alone. Members include male fire chiefs, union presidents, EEO officers and others seeking to make the fire service a professional place where women and men work together harmoniously.

 

For this report and other relevant NFPA research, visit nfpa.org

 

It’s no secret that technology today is evolving at the speed of the electrons that power it. Gadgets, gismos, and doohickeys are continuously being updated to make our lives more convenient, more efficient, and keep us connected. And as consumers, we are always waiting for the next big breakthrough that becomes the “thing” we can’t live without.

 

So, what does this mean for the built environment? As more and more technology works its way into our lives, we grow increasingly enamored with the devices that help streamline our day-to-day. But this presents challenges about how we protect the world from electrical hazards. We are finding new and creative ways to power equipment, connect to the world we live in, and interact with our surroundings. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to Power over Ethernet (PoE), new terms are flooding the vocabulary of building designers and engineers every day.

 

Take PoE for instance. We are using it to power lighting in office buildings and computer labs in colleges, and build automation systems in hotels around the world. As this new use of an old technology expands and becomes the norm, we are met with new and challenging concerns. Questions like, “How will all these additional communications cables add to the fire load of the building?” and “Will large bundles of cable present a fire hazard?”

 

Recently, I spoke to a group of leading experts on PoE technology and picked their collective brains about what the future looks like for electrical installation safety and our response to the ever-changing technological landscape. Check out my video interview above, and let us know in the comments below what you're seeing where you work.

 

 

 

 

          

Section 130.5(H) has specific requirements for equipment labels when there are electrical hazards present. For some reason, users of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace have trouble applying Exception No. 1 (compliance with a previous edition) and the requirement that the data be reviewed for accuracy within 5 years. Looking at these as two separate issues may help those who are confused on applying the rules.

The exception applies to the information on an existing label. The intent is not to require replacement of labels when electrical safety is not affected. The exception assumes that the applied label complied with a previous edition of the standard. For example, a previous edition of the standard required only an incident energy or HRC on the label. A subsequent edition required the arc-flash boundary. The current edition uses PPE categories. If nothing else has changed in the electrical system, these labels would not need to be replaced. Depending on how your facility handles electrical safety there may be reasons to change the label to the current labeling method for consistency or due to your written safety procedures. A qualified person has been trained to understand how to apply the appropriate safety procedures for any affixed, compliant label. Notice that the exception is applicable upon adoption of the current standard. It is not based on a 5-year review.

The 5-year review applies to all evaluated equipment. A review is not required to occur once every five years. It is required that a review not exceed five years. You are responsible for being aware of changes in the electrical system at your facility. It is your responsibility to conduct a review whenever a modification may change or increase the electrical hazards that an employee might be exposed to. If distribution equipment is modified the day after the labels were applied, it would be necessary to conduct a review that next day. The review may be conducted within 5 years of the last review when no known changes to the electrical system have occurred. This of course, assumes that you have conducted proper equipment maintenance, purchased the exact replacement fuse or circuit breaker for the system, and did not install auxiliary power equipment for power outages.

Another point of confusion is what is required as part of this review. The word review was chosen to be exactly that. It does not require that an entire risk analysis or re-calculation be performed within five years. You must review the systems to which the risk assessment was based on. If proper maintenance has been performed, no overcurrent devices were replaced, no new risks are present based on new equipment tasks, etc., then a note could be added in the file that the review revealed no changes in the electrical system have affected electrical safety. If equipment was not maintained, if the replacement circuit breaker specifications are different, or if the utility swapped out the facility transformer, there may be concern. A new risk assessment should be conducted to verify or change the label information.

As usual, all this is necessary to protect the employee from injury. Anything that effects their safety must be addressed in a timely manner. Hopefully, the label and risk assessment reviews are just another area where you go beyond the minimum requirements of the standard.

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

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NEC Connect newsletter to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

Next time: A host employer is responsible for the safety of contract employees.

 

The 2020 edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) hit the shelves back in September of 2019 and with its release came a sweeping change to the requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel in residential type occupancies or dwelling units. Communicating the ins and outs of what this means for dwelling unit electrical systems going forward is a big part of the value that NFPA can bring to the electrical industry. To do this, we were able to enlist the help of our friends at the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) to help spread the word. I had the opportunity to contribute to the January/February edition of the IAEI magazine with an article featuring the highlights and reasoning of the many changes that took place during the 2020 revision process.

 

Some of the highlights included the expansion of GFCI protection in dwelling units, clarification of how measurements are taken, and relocation of specific requirements as needed. These changes are going to increase the safety aspect of homes built under the 2020 NEC. By implementing the technology that we have available today, we can create a safe space in our homes where the risk of electrocution is significantly lower than even just a few years ago.

 

The NEC is an ever-evolving document that will never stop striving to meet its purpose and that is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.

My colleague, Robert Solomon, provides insights on fire safety and evacuation plans to I Advance Senior Care for the benefit of owners, executives, administrators, and directors of nursing at assisted living communities, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. 

 

In part, Solomon explains that, "A large percentage of the population are going to be incapable of self-preservation. This means that your employees may be called on to use special techniques to evacuate residents." Per Solomon, evacuation should actually be a last resort. “One of the things we strive not to do in a facility like a nursing home is to get to a point where we have to evacuate anybody. Planning is centered around the idea of ‘defend in place.’”

 

Read the article and share it with your colleagues.

 

The recent issue of NFPA Journal featured an article about the numerous deadly fires in health care occupancies, predominantly hospitals, that continue to occur throughout other parts of the world. Had that story been written in the 1960s, it could have included the United States, but we have been fortunate to have not experienced such fires or losses since 2003. Within a seven-month period that year, two multiple fatality nursing home fires occurred. As noted in the article, one of the main reasons for our favorable experience in the US centers around the various layers of regulation, enforcement, and commitment to maintain a rigorous oversight and surveillance of the safety systems and features required by codes such as NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.  Adoption of the 1967 edition of NFPA 101 in 1970 by the predecessor organization to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has cast a wide net over the appropriate fire and life safety provisions that hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory health care, and certain residential board and care occupancies must adhere to.

 

In 2016, CMS finalized their rule for adoption of the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, along with the 2012 edition of NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code. While much discussion, publicizing, and retraining around those editions of these important codes took place in 2016 and 2017, the question on the table is, “Have people forgotten about how these regulations work?”

 

A recently released report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from the US Department of Health and Human Services provided an insight into violations at 18 nursing homes in Texas. The report cites provisions and requirements contained in NFPA 99, NFPA 101, as well as the Fire Safety Survey Report  (K-Tags) that is developed by CMS. NFPA developed a resource that provides all the content from the 2012 editions of NFPA 99 and NFPA 101 along with an interactive version of the Fire Safety Survey Report Form that connects these provisions. The OIG report also cites a lack of facility preparation and measures surrounding the Emergency Preparedness (EP) rule that CMS finalized in 2017. Like the rule adopting NFPA 99 and NFPA 101, the EP criteria applies to nursing homes as well as 16 other provider types that are regulated through CMS.

 

NFPA worked diligently to provide background, knowledge and relevant information for both of these federal rules.  We created a specific landing page on our website to consolidate that information and to offer selected resources. While we’ve had approximately 3+ years of experience with these relatively new provisions, is it possible that some level of complacency has set in? The OIG report on the Texas nursing homes is alarming, but fortunately identified potential hazards and violations before anything bad has happened. While some will argue that this particular OIG report notes some minor violations, which is probably fair, others are not so minor. The regulatory structure of not only the federal government criteria but also of the NFPA codes and standards does not make a judgment that providing inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) oversight of a fire door is more or less important than providing that same level of ITM for a sprinkler system or anything else. The NFPA code provisions, backed up by the supplemental regulations put forth by CMS, are intended to work as a total system or package.  This part of the regulatory infrastructure is highlighted in several cogs of the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem.

 

While NFPA cannot enforce or determine how well or not so well our code provisions are applied to any building during the construction phase or lifecycle phase of the building, we can offer tools that work to assist operators of these facilities with their code compliance obligations. While we have delivered various pieces of content, including press releases, resource materials, and fee-based materials around this topic, this is a good time to remind everyone what we have available. Our goal at NFPA is to be the resource that designers, AHJ’s, owner/operators and even contractors can turn to in order to provide quality, safe and usable facilities. Occupants of nursing homes are obviously in a vulnerable state; maintaining a high level of readiness for all the building systems and features is of paramount importance.

 

While it is by no means a formal relationship, the regulatory structure for the built environment surrounding the health care system in the US is made up of a combination of private-sector resources such as those available from NFPA and the resources provided by CMS.  Maintaining these facilities for a level of readiness regardless of the hazard was essentially the sole purpose of the emergency preparedness rule.  Protecting the occupants from the impact of a fire was the purpose of the rule previously mentioned dating back to 1970 that mandates the use of various editions of NFPA 99 and NFPA 101.

The OIG report coming out of Texas is a prompt that this is the time to provide a reminder to everyone involved in the operation, oversight, or enforcement of these federal regulations of what is available. I have provided a list of those resources below that includes information directly or indirectly referenced and utilized by CMS.  This also includes information that is acknowledged for use by another entity within the US Department of Health and Human Services — the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response-ASPR.

 

I suspect that the items identified in the OIG report from Texas are not unique to that state by any means. Likewise, I wonder if such reports will extend beyond nursing homes to other types of provider types, including acute care, and residential board and care occupancies among others. Although nothing is forever, federal rule-making criteria such as that utilized to adopt NFPA codes and standards remains in effect until the responsible federal agency says otherwise.  Those provisions are merely not words and the criteria they reference such as the NFPA codes sitting on your shelf, or perhaps in the cloud somewhere, are not intended to be an academic exercise or some nice ideas. They provide the foundation for safe buildings and for the appropriate level of emergency preparedness.

 

Following are links (in no particular order) to resources and information that provide guidance on meeting fire and life safety requirements in healthcare facilities. (Some of these resources are also referenced in the above blog.)

 

 

As the world’s leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards, our public affairs department gets asked all kinds of questions. For example, this week’s media inquiries included requests for NFPA insight on the Australia wildfire; inept fire protection systems in LA; evacuation practices for disabled residents in Minneapolis hi-rises; fire department response times in Dallas; and golf cart fires in Florida.

 

I can’t say why this last one about golf carts stood out, but it did. It most likely resonated with me because I’m in the Boston area and, as is often the case in New England in February, it is cold and dreary. So, today, the thought of cruising on the back nine, zipping to the beach, or buzzing to a friend’s home in a golf cart piqued my interest. And in typical NFPA employee fashion, those thoughts quickly led me to wonder about potential fire hazards that may slow a golf cart owner’s roll.

 

Global Market Insights and other trend-watchers, say that golf carts are popular because they are convenient, economical, and environmental alternatives for moving people short distances. The golf industry leads the user pack, as you might imagine. In 2018 alone, there were over 500 golf courses under development across the globe – and of course they require low speed vehicles (LSVs). But, others are turning to golf carts, too, including the hospitality industry, universities, airports, tourist spots, housing developments, and residents in some states that are authorizing use on streets. Modern day carts are relatively quiet, produce low engine emissions, are easy to operate, can accommodate between 2-14 passengers, and boast all kinds of features.

 

Golf carts tend to use lead acid batteries, like those used in cars; and typically create a very small amount of hydrogen when being charged. Hydrogen is an odorless and colorless gas that is flammable. It is not usually concerning but it can be if a very large battery is being charged in a small sealed enclosure, or charged incorrectly as recently reported by The Palm Beach Post in Florida. Palm Beach County Fire Marshal David DeRita told the newspaper that fire departments are seeing an increase in carbon monoxide calls that tend to actually be hydrogen-related. The fire official pointed out that when hydrogen is present, just touching a garage switch or garage door light, which work off electricity, could ignite fire. “We are talking about a double whammy here. If it doesn’t suffocate you, it can kill you through a fire,” DeRita said.


As part of their basic maintenance, lead acid batteries require distilled water to be added on a periodic basis. Until 2018, carts did not feature safety mechanisms that shut off charging if water levels ran too low. It is equally concerning if water exceeds the fill line because the battery needs extra space or air to do its job. A few years back, Al Guzzetta, owner of Cart Masters, spoke with a Fort Myers news station about the dangers associated with overfilling the cell of the battery with water. He advised, "Do not fill them up like a regular car battery because the charger actually makes them percolate like a coffee maker."


Hazards can also arise when carts are charging. In September, WCSC-TV in South Carolina reported that improper golf cart charging resulted in nearly $60,000 in damage to a Seabrook Island home and van. In that incident, a modified 50-foot extension cord, not the manufacturer’s cord, was used to charge an electric golf cart. The cord lacked the third prong needed to ground electricity, prompting the golf cart in the driveway to catch fire, and ignite both the house next to it and a van nearby.

 

Today, Lithium ion battery-charged golf carts are beginning to take hold in the market. Although upfront costs may be 20% higher, the long- term benefits and ease of maintenance are being well-received. For example, li-on battery models can be fully charged in four hours (or to 80% within an hour), as opposed to eight hours for lead acid batteries. The weight of lithium ion batteries are about two-thirds lighter too, which bodes well for wear and tear on carts. There is little information available about fire or other hazardous incidents involving lithium ion-charged golf carts but as we have learned in recent years, li ion batteries can explode or overheat; and given that golf carts tend to be used in outdoor locations where temperatures may run high, there is a possibility that we may hear of challenges in the future.


Golf carts are meant to help users enjoy outdoor activities, convenient transport, and a host of other benefits. Follow these simple steps to ensure that your LSV and loved ones are kept safe from harm:

 

  • Follow the manufacturer’s charging recommendations
  • Use the charger provided by the manufacturer
  • Charge the vehicle in a ventilated area
  • Be sure to charge the cart when someone is home – and never overnight
  • And if your cart has an acid lead battery, ensure that your house and garage have carbon monoxide detectors

 

For additional tips and helpful videos, visit the National Golf Cart Association website.

 

So far, 2020 has seen several noteworthy high-rise building fires.  On Wednesday, January 29, a fire in a 25-story residential high-rise in Los Angeles left at least 11 people injured, one fatally. The fire was said to have begun on the 6th floor and spread to the 7th floor of the non-sprinklered building. Ironically, a fire that erupted on the 11th floor of the same building in 2013 displaced up to 150 residents and injured two people.  On January 14th, nearly two dozen people were hurt, two of them critically, following a fire on the 24th floor of a luxury high-rise building on the Upper East Side of New York City.  The fire started in an apartment's kitchen and spread through the entire floor. It was likely because the of an open door to the dwelling unit that the fire spread so rapidly throughout the floor. 

 

One required fire protection feature found in nearly all high-rise buildings is a standpipe system.  Standpipe systems are fixed piping systems with associated equipment that transports water from a reliable water supply to designated areas of buildings. These systems can significantly improve the efficiency of manual fire-fighting operations by eliminating the need for long and cumbersome hose lays from fire apparatus to a fire. Even in buildings that are protected by automatic sprinklers, standpipe systems can play an important role in building fire safety by serving as a backup for, and complement to, sprinklers.

 

Standpipes in high-rise buildings can serve to increase life safety, as well as property protection, because of the lengthy evacuation times associated with tall buildings. In many cases, emergency action plans advise occupants who are not in immediate danger of exposure to fire to remain within the building to allow responding fire service personnel better access to the standpipes within the exit stair enclosures (staged/partial evacuation). Use of standpipes at such times supplements the operation of the required automatic sprinkler system. 

 

The design and installation of standpipe systems shall be in accordance with not only Section 13.2 of NFPA 1 but also NFPA 14 which sets the minimum requirements for the installation of both standpipe and hose systems. All high-rise buildings are required to be protected throughout by a Class I standpipe system.  A Class I system provides 2½ in. (65 mm) hose connections at designated locations in a building for use by the fire department. A Class I system is typically required in buildings that have more than three stories above or below grade because of the time and difficulty involved in laying hose from fire apparatus directly to remote floors.  For these reasons, Class I standpipes are the required system in high-rise buildings. (Refer to NFPA 1 for other conditions where a standpipe may be required in other than a high-rise building.)

 

Also per NFPA 1, the AHJ is authorized to permit the removal of existing occupant use hose lines where all of the following conditions are met:

  1. This Code does not require their installation.
  2. The current building code does not require their installation.
  3. The AHJ determines that the occupant-use hose line will not be utilized by trained personnel or the fire department.

 

It is not the intent to permit the removal of portions of the existing standpipe system other than hose lines, and that such remaining system components be maintained and available for use by the fire department or other appropriate fire suppression personnel.  This is intended to explicitly allow the removal of nonrequired, occupant-use standpipe hose from buildings. Prior to the 2015 edition, some AHJs might have been wary of permitting the removal of occupant-use hose, lacking any Code language stating its removal was permitted. Provided that the hose is not required by NFPA 1 or the applicable building code, and no trained on-site fire suppression personnel would be expected to utilize it, the hose can be removed. It is preferable for untrained building occupants to evacuate rather than attempt to extinguish a fire using hose lines.

 

Like any other building fire protection system, standpipe systems must be properly maintained. NFPA 25 provides the specific details for inspection, testing and maintenance procedures, frequencies and documentation. The owner is responsible for maintaining the standpipe system and keeping it in good working condition.  The local AHJ is then responsible for confirming through the owner that they have done their job in maintaining the system in accordance with the appropriate procedures. 

 

Standpipe systems are critical for life safety, property protection and for efficient firefighter operations and their safety.  Fires in high-rise buildings will continue to occur, but ensuring these systems, when required, are present and functioning, can minimize the impact of these events.

 

IT’S A BIG WORLD. LET’S PROTECT IT TOGETHER.

 

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Thanks for reading!

People tend to get hung up on whether or not it is safe to work on a specific piece of electrical equipment. Often the hang up is caused by an attempt to classify a task as electrical work or non-electrical work. Working on electrical equipment or performing non-electrical work are really just terms. When it comes to electrical safety the task being performed does play a role in the steps to be taken in protecting the employee. However, the electrical hazard is really the issue. What doesn’t change, regardless of what the assigned task is considered, is whether or not the employee is exposed to an electrical hazard. 

Consider the exposure to electrical hazards without classifying a set of tasks as electrical or non-electrical. An equipment label indicates that the restricted approach boundary is 2 feet, 2 inches, the limited approach boundary is 5 feet and the arc-flash boundary is 14 feet. An employee is removing the bolts to open the enclosure although the equipment is not yet placed into an electrical safe work condition. Another employee who will do a thermography scan and a maintenance worker assigned to vacuum out the equipment are standing 4 feet away. Another worker is standing 2 feet away ready to establish an electrically safe work condition after the thermography scan is completed. Another worker is painting the ceiling 10 feet away. There will be exposed electrical hazards when the enclosure is opened. What does 130.2 require? It requires that an electrical equipment be placed in an electrically safe work condition whenever the exposed voltage will be above 50 volts or when someone is interacting with equipment that increases the likelihood of an arc-flash unless the exposure is justified. Section 130.3 requires that employees be protected when working while exposed to electrical hazards. What exposed hazards will put each of these employees at risk?

Start with the employee unbolting the enclosure’s cover. This employee will be within the restricted approach boundary during the removal of the cover. Not only will the employee be inside the arc-flash boundary at that time but will be interacting with the equipment in such a way to increase the likelihood of an arc-flash. The employee who is responsible for establishing the electrically safe work condition is also within all three boundaries. The thermography and maintenance employees are within the limited approach boundary as well as the arc-flash boundary. What of the worker whose back is to the equipment while painting the ceiling? That worker is within the arc-flash boundary and may not know what is occurring behind her. 

There are so many things that I would do differently, but this blog is to illustrate a point. NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace does not deem a task as electrical or non-electrical work. It requires that all employees be protected from electrical hazards. There are specific requirements on how to do so based on the boundary being crossed. Who is permitted to cross a specific boundary and what should occur upon doing so is also addressed. It does not matter if an employee’s title is mechanic, electrician, maintenance worker, technician, contractor, or painter. NFPA 70E uses the terms qualified and unqualified person. All five employees are at risk of being injured by an arc-flash. Two of the employees are at increased risk of being shocked (electrocuted) and two more are exposed to a shock hazard. 

How you classify a task at your facility is semantics when it comes to electrical safety. What will be your justification for the painter’s injury following an arc-flash incident? That she was not working on the electrical equipment will not be acceptable. It will not matter that the thermographer was doing something deemed non-electrical when the arc-flash occurred. Is the injury different because the employee removing the cover is a technician when he is electrocuted due to a loose, energized wire? If you want to get hung up on an electrical term, make it hazards. Adequately protect all employees performing any task around any electrical hazard. Even better, don’t expose an employee to an electrical hazard.

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

Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code (NEC)? Subscribe to the NEC Connect newsletter to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.

Next time: Arc-flash label replacement and risk assessment reviews.

A resident clings to the exterior of a 25-story Los Angeles high-rise apartment building on January 29, 2020; photo courtesy of Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

 

I have to wonder whether passersby on L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard thought they were witnessing the filming of a new action film, considering they were only about nine miles away from Hollywood. This was no movie, however. This was real life, and the scene that played out on the morning of January 29th at the Barrington Plaza apartments was nothing short of terrifying. A 19-year-old man died and 13 other people were injured – 10 civilians and three firefighters – in a fire on the sixth and seventh floors of a 25-story apartment building. The building, which was constructed in 1961 and the scene of another major fire in 2013, was not protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

 

According to media reports, the City of Los Angeles does not require high-rise buildings to be protected by automatic sprinkler systems if they were built prior to 1974. This has led some to ask about NFPA’s position on sprinkler protection for older high-rise buildings. NFPA’s position is established by the requirements in its codes and standards that are developed using an ANSI accredited, open-consensus process in which any person can participate. Two NFPA codes specify sprinkler requirements for existing high-rise buildings: NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. The requirements of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 differ slightly because the two codes have different scopes and different goals and objectives.

 

The scope, goals, and objectives of NFPA 101 are limited to protecting building occupants from the effects of fire and similar emergencies. Building occupants are those who live, work, or otherwise normally occupy a building. Building occupants, in the context of NFPA 101, do not include emergency responders. Because NFPA 101 is concerned only with occupant life safety, protection of neither the building itself nor its contents is considered. If a building has a fire in which all occupants are able to safely evacuate and the building subsequently burns to the ground, the goals and objectives of NFPA 101 are considered to have been satisfied. The life safety requirements of NFPA 101 are based on a building’s occupancy classification (i.e., how a building is used). The Barrington Plaza building would be classified by the current edition of NFPA 101 as an existing apartment building. In addition, any building having a floor level more than 75 ft above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access is a high-rise building; the 25-story building in question meets this criterion.

 

The 2018 edition of NFPA 101 requires existing, high-rise apartment buildings to be protected by automatic sprinkler systems unless one of the specified exemptions exists. Because this requirement applies to existing buildings, it is intended to be applied to any high-rise apartment building that was constructed prior to the adoption of the 2018 edition of the Code, irrespective of the requirements of the code adopted at the time of construction. NFPA 101 does not “grandfather” existing buildings. Two exemptions apply to the mandatory sprinkler requirement: one is if every apartment is provided with exterior exit access (e.g., outside balconies), and the other is if the building is provided with an engineered life safety system (ELSS) designed to compensate for the lack of sprinkler protection and approved by the applicable authority having jurisdiction. ELSSs can be comprised of a combination of partial sprinkler systems, smoke detection systems, smoke control systems, building compartmentation, and other approved systems. An ELSS is an engineered, complex, alternative system that is designed to provide a level of protection essentially equivalent to that afforded by automatic sprinklers. In some cases, building owners might find that the design and installation of a complicated ELSS is cost-prohibitive and the installation of a relatively simple automatic sprinkler system is more cost-effective.

 

Whereas the scope of NFPA 101 is limited to occupant life safety, the scope, goals, and objectives of NFPA 1, Fire Code, include not only occupant life safety, but also emergency responder safety and property protection. For this reason, the high-rise building sprinkler provisions of NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 differ. The 2018 edition of NFPA 1 states that all existing high-rise buildings, regardless of occupancy classification or when the building was constructed, must be protected by automatic sprinkler systems, without exception, within 12 years of adoption of the Code by the applicable jurisdiction. NFPA 1 does not offer the ELSS alternative, recognizing the life safety benefits as well as the property saving benefits of automatic sprinkler systems.

 

While neither NFPA 1 nor NFPA 101 has criteria that specifically addresses short-term rental of residential dwellings, it is interesting to note, according to media reports, residents of Barrington Plaza complained about numerous units being used as such with sites like Airbnb. It’s reported that some units would be rented for a night by partiers. Where a building is used for residential purposes on such a transient basis, it starts to have some of the characteristics of a hotel. Codes have different requirements for hotels when compared to apartment buildings recognizing the transient nature of the occupants. The 19-year-old who died in the Barrington Plaza fire was an exchange student from France. Further details haven’t been released so it isn’t known whether he was a short-term renter, if he had a standard lease from the building management, or if he was a visitor. Regardless, the risks associated with hotels and apartment buildings differ, and this is a topic that warrants further study. (A feature article in the July/August 2018 issue of NFPA Journal titled “The Airbnb Challenge” addresses this issue.)

 

Automatic sprinkler systems have proven to be the best defense against fire in high-rise buildings. While the recent fire in Los Angeles was tragic, it had the potential to be catastrophic. I believe the outcome would have been much different had the fire occurred at 2:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. The relatively few numbers of injuries were thanks to the heroic efforts of the members of the Los Angeles Fire Department who selflessly put their lives on the line. They had no other choice, largely because an older high-rise building was grandfathered from requiring a basic fire protection feature like an automatic sprinkler system.

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