As I (allegedly) approach a half century on this earth, reflection on life lessons learned are in abundance. Looking back there is no question that the most impactful lessons I learned, that I still use every day, were on days that started in the blazing heat of summer and ended in the brisk chill of autumn spent between painted white lines on lush blades of green grass. The football field is where I learned, along with young men who would eventually become my brothers, about courage, perseverance, accountability, sacrifice, and teamwork. We learned how to play for something more than ourselves, we learned how to play for one another. We were accountable to one another and came to understand that we were only as powerful as our weakest player, therefore, we had to push each other to be better. When toe met leather on those Friday nights under the lights, as Kenny Chesney’s song, The Boys of Fall says, you mess with one man, you got us all.
In more recent years, I have had the privilege of being the one to wear the whistle and begin to instill life lessons in my own son and his teammates who he will no doubt one day consider as brothers. From this side of the white lines, I have started to understand more about the framework of success. Coaches must create a game plan that, when executed by both players and coaches, achieves the desired outcome - victory! Transferring this to our day jobs, what does a victory look like? To me, working safely throughout the day, which in turn allows me to return home safely to my family each night, is like winning the Super Bowl! This isn’t going to happen without a proper game plan in place that is executed precisely as intended by both coaches and players. Business owners, acting as coaches, must put together a clear plan for safety and ensure that the players have the proper resources needed to execute the plan. Communication of the plan, proper training, and safety equipment for the players, or employees, are critical to the plan being executed and success being attained. Owners and employees are equally accountable in that a safety plan is not only established but also followed as designed. Shortcuts by anyone could result in failure of the plan. Which in this case, is not signified by a lesser score than our opponent on the scoreboard, but potentially by whether we live or die. This is not a game we can take a chance on losing.
On the job, there are many electrical opponents such as shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast that are all nipping at our heels trying to ensure we don’t reach the end zone at all, let alone achieve victory. NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is a critical resource when it comes to putting together a game plan for electrical safety success. When established by owners and followed by employees, the safety policies, procedures, and process controls that are within NFPA 70E needed to help ensure safety for all involved. Like any good plan, the processes and procedures within NFPA 70E are able to be evaluated and revised between editions through the standards development process. Although the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E was just released in September, public input for modifications to the 2024 edition is already being submitted and will continue to be accepted through June 1st, 2021.
Between the 2018 and 2021 editions of NFPA 70E, there was a public input received that significantly impacted the general requirements for electrical safety-related work practices as listed within Article 110. Chapter 1 within NFPA 70E, which contains Article 110, is really where the details of our safety game plan are laid out including specifying both the employer and employee responsibility in Article 105. Section 110.5 is specific to the Electrical Safety Program which requires the employer to both implement and document an electrical safety program that directs activity appropriate to the risk associated with electrical hazards. Through public input, section 110.5(K) was added which states “An electrical safety program shall include an electrically safe work condition policy that complies with 110.3.” Within section 110.3, it states that conductors and circuit parts operating at 50 volts or more are required to be put into an electrical safe work condition if any of these conditions exist:
- The employee is within the limited approach boundary, and;
- The employee interacts with equipment where conductors or circuit parts are not exposed but an increased likelihood of injury from an exposure to an arc flash hazard exists.
By definition, an electrically safe work condition is a state in which an electrical conductor or circuit part has been disconnected from energized parts, locked/tagged in accordance with established standards, tested to verify the absence of voltage, and, if necessary, temporarily grounded for personnel protection. The informational note that follows the definition goes a step further to state that an electrically safe work condition is not a procedure, it is a state wherein all hazardous electrical conductors or circuit parts to which a worker might be exposed are maintained in a de-energized state for the purpose of temporarily eliminating electrical hazards for the period of time for which the state is maintained. While the thought of many is that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as arc-flash suits, should be the means we utilized to keep ourselves safe, PPE should actually be the last resort. Turning power off and establishing an electrically safe work condition where there is no potential for exposure should always be the primary goal. The Hierarchy of Risk Controls is listed in section 110.5(H)(3) as:
- Engineering Controls
- Administrative Controls
Informational Note 1 that follows goes on to state “Elimination, substitution, and engineering controls are the most effective methods to reduce risk as they are usually applied at the source of possible injury or damage to health and they are less likely to be affected by human error. Awareness, administrative controls, and PPE are the least effective methods to reduce risk as they are not applied at the source and they are more likely to be affected by human error.”
The reality of what this public input to the 2021 edition of the NFPA 70E did, is that it evaluated and changed our game plan for the better. While employers are already required to implement and document an electrical safety program, the addition of 110.5(K) now requires that we have an electrical safe work condition policy within that program. And if going home safely to our family every night is our ultimate measure of success, this change just put us at first and goal. It’s now up to both employers and employees to fully execute the plan to put the ball into the end zone.
For more information, visit NFPA's electrical solutions webpage.