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23 Posts authored by: dvigstol Employee

electrical

 

It’s no secret that NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) is aimed at saving lives. There are requirements throughout the document that are specifically included to prevent shock and electrical fires. However, once in a while we need requirements to install the electrical system in a way that supports life saving efforts of a different kind. Sometimes, it is the electrical system itself that will end up saving a life and other times it might be key components of the electrical system that support certain life safety functions of a building.

 

One type of occupancy that illustrates this point is a hospital. Healthcare facilities are a great example of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical and other hazards. These facilities are also prime examples of where the convergence of multiple building codes and standards can make it hard to digest and keep straight, especially when it comes to the essential electrical system (EES). The EES is a critical piece to the operation of healthcare facilities and instrumental in providing life safety in these occupancies. However, we need to take a look at all of the moving pieces to better understand how this supports the mission to save lives.

 

First, let’s take a look at why we even have a need for the EES in the first place. In order to do this, we need to understand what makes up an EES. For our purposes here, we will focus on a Type 1 EES. But first we should define what an EES is. NFPA 99: Healthcare Facilities Code actually defines an EES as:

 

“A system comprised of alternate sources of power and all connected distribution systems and ancillary equipment, designed to ensure continuity of electrical power to designated areas and functions of a health care facility during disruption of normal power sources, and also to minimize disruption within the internal wiring system.”

 

Specifically, a Type 1 EES is made up of three separate branches that provide power to different functions within the facility:

  • The first branch is the life safety branch and it is intended to deliver power to the systems that are needed for the purpose of life-safety, such as exit signs and egress lighting.
  • The second branch is the critical branch. This branch contains circuits and equipment that are in certain areas and critical to the function of patient care within the facility. Critical circuits can supply items like task lighting, certain receptacles, and fixed equipment in Category 1 (critical) spaces.
  • The third branch is the equipment branch. This branch powers systems that are integral to the building operation. Systems such as climate control HVAC and certain elevators can be found on this branch.

 

Just exactly how this system needs to perform is not exactly a function of the NEC. Remember, the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of people and property from electrical hazards. Keeping a hospital up and running in an emergency is certainly an important task, however, it belongs to another document, like NFPA 99.  The role of the National Electrical Code is more about how to install the EES, both to meet the performance requirements of NFPA 99 and to be safe in alignment with the purpose of the NEC.

 

As I mentioned, in order to understand the full picture of just how the EES factors into the life saving mission of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, we need to examine all of the pieces in this equation. To do this justice we will be taking a deeper look at the specifics of this system as they relate to the mission of making the world a safer place in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Our next blog will examine the three different branches of a Type 1 EES the Life Safety Branch, the Critical Branch, and the Equipment Branch. We will cover what types of loads are allowed on each, how each branch is required to perform, and how exactly we install these systems to accomplish this. We’ll also explore the nuances of the relationships between the NEC, NFPA 99, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code . Make sure to stay tuned as we break down one of the more complicated and confusing areas in electrical installations.

 

To learn more about this topic and related information found in the 2020 National Electrical Code, be sure to check out NFPA’s new digital access to the NEC, which provides needed information in the code with features like keyword search and the ability to pull up other referenced sections without leaving the page you were on! Best of all, you can bundle it with a copy of the book and save big. Check it out today, and let us know what you think.

Another June has come and gone, and now we’re on the backside of 2019! For those of us at NFPA who are involved the NFPA Conference and Expo and the annual technical session, July signifies our recovery from the biggest event of the year in fire, electrical, and life safety. This year has been no different. San Antonio saw the largest gathering of NFPA stakeholders at this event since I came on board at NFPA. This is very encouraging as NFPA strives to spread the word about the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem. Each and everyone of the attendees at the Big Show are an integral part of this ecosystem.

 

One stakeholder group that has always been active in the NFPA ecosystem, is the electrical inspector community. Afterall, they represent an entire cog in the ecosystem around code compliance for electrical safety. In 2018, NFPA opened a dedicated member section for public sector electrical inspectors in order to assist in furthering and bettering the position of the electrical inspection community within the NFPA Ecosystem. This year the member section had its annual business meeting and executive board meeting on Sunday before the conference kicked off.

 

One of the topics that was at the center of the discussion and is evident that many of the members are very passionate about, is how can the NFPA Electrical Inspector Member Section play a role in helping the inspection community through providing resources and educational material. This is especially critical at this time when many municipalities are seeing budget cuts and funding reductions that lead to many non-electrical type building officials performing more and more inspections of electrical installations. Multi-hat inspectors are here and are sticking around. The member section recognizes this fact and wants to provide resources and help so that the Code Compliance cog of the Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem remains strong in the electrical world.

 

I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the members of the Electrical Inspector Section at Conference and Expo and discuss what some of the challenges are that the electrical inspection community is facing. What we talked about was a resounding need to keep up. Keeping up with changing technology, keeping up with a changing inspection landscape, and keeping up with what other organizations are doing around the industry. We spoke about the challenges facing the inspection community for about an hour in a sort of impromptu roundtable discussion that we did our best to capture on film. Check out some of the highlights from this conversation in this short video below that we put together to capture some of the more important points.

 

 

So how can the electrical inspector member section serve as a resource to the electrical inspection community? One of the methods that they have already started working on is by creating a whitepaper around conducting residential electrical inspections. This whitepaper spells out how the inspection process fits into the Ecosystem and then goes on further to list items and tasks that should be performed during the inspection process of a dwelling unit. They also go a step further and list the various references from building codes such as the NEC® and IRC® as well as other applicable reference standards.

 

Download the whitepaper and start using it today. If you’re an electrical inspector, let us know what you’re seeing out in the field. We’d love to hear from you. Also, the NFPA Electrical Inspector Member Section is seeking members to help further their mission. Membership in the Electrical Inspector Section is open to any NFPA member who is directly employed by or contracted to a public agency that promulgates and/or enforces codes and standards and performs one or more of the following activities:

 

  • field electrical inspections
  • electrical plans review
  • administers/supervises personnel performing field electrical inspections and/or plans review

If you fit the qualifications and this is something you feel you would be interested in please apply today!

pool safety

Summer is finally here! Drive through any neighborhood and it is nearly impossible to miss the signs. The smell of burgers on the grill and fresh cut grass permeates the landscape and perfectly accompanies the sound of children laughing and playing in backyards everywhere. And with summer, comes swimming. Whether it is swimming in a pool, lake, ocean, or even just playing in a puddle, children of all ages jump at the chance to head to water when the temperatures rise.  But before we do, it is important for all of us to take a moment and consider the safety measures that have been put in place to ensure that an epic cannonball off the diving board does not turn into a tragic electrical accident.

 

In case you didn’t know, submerging our bodies in water makes us more susceptible to electric shock and reduces resistance of our skin. This in turn permits lower voltage levels to cause a sufficient amount of current to flow through our bodies, which is extremely dangerous, and possibly even deadly. For this reason, NFPA 70®: National Electrical Code® (NEC®) contains many requirements to minimize shock hazards in and around pools and hot tubs and protect us from harm. With this in mind, there are essentially two methods of protection that are employed in the pool and hot tub safety requirements of the NEC®:

 

  • Eliminate voltage gradients in the water and surrounding areas
  • Interrupt power if and when there is a problem

 

The first method of protection, eliminating voltage gradients, deals less with protection from faulty electrical equipment itself and more so with taking measures to electrically connect conductive surfaces and items in the area around the pool, including measures to bond the water itself to the conductive surfaces and equipment. This concept is referred to as "equipotential bonding," meaning, bonding things together in order to keep everything at the same or equal potential or voltage. The NEC requires all of the following to be bonded together with a minimum of an 8 AWG solid, copper conductor or with rigid metal conduit made of brass or other corrosion resistant material:

 

  • Conductive pool shells, such as concrete poured or sprayed over rebar or a copper conductor grid
  • Perimeter surfaces up to 3 feet measured horizontally from the inside wall of the pool
  • Metal fittings
  • Electrical equipment associated with the circulation system or pool cover
  • Metallic components
  • Fixed metal parts like ladders and handrails
  • Underwater lighting

 

Lastly, if none of these components to the system are in contact with the actual water itself, means must be provided to expose a minimum of 9 square inches of a corrosion-resistant and conductive material to the water. By connecting all of these items together, the chance that any one of them develops a difference in potential from any of the other items or the water itself is now reduced.

 

The other main method for protecting people from electrical hazards in and around pools and hot tubs involves turning the power off when there is a fault or other problem. There are also two main vehicles in which this level of protection can be provided:

 

  • An effective ground-fault current path to facilitate the opening of the overcurrent protective device (OCPD)
  • Ground-fault circuit interrupter protection that monitors the current on the circuit and interrupts power when the difference between what goes out and comes back in exceeds 4-6 mA

 

Combined, these two methods protect pool goers by removing the electricity from the environment when there is a problem. For instance, often the area surrounding a pool is very corrosive and harsh with respect to electrical equipment and can cause conductors to loosen up or break off from their terminals. This could lead to a conductor contacting the frame of a motor or a metal raceway or side of a box increasing the chances of someone being electrocuted. Having an effective ground-fault current path like an equipment grounding conductor will help the overcurrent protective device supplying the circuit open quickly by providing a low impedance pathway and spiking the fault current high above the trip setting or rating of the OCPD. For instances where a human might come in contact with this faulty equipment, GFCI protection is required. This protection helps to interrupt the power even when the fault current isn’t high enough to trip the OCPD, which might be the case in the event that the EGC or bonding conductor has been broken or otherwise disconnected.

 

All these measures are aimed at protecting us in an environment we often view as recreational and relaxing. However, due to the chemicals and moisture and nature of activities that take place in and around a pool, a certain level of maintenance and care must be done to ensure that these protective measure continue to function and provide the intended level of safety. This is where both qualified electricians and pool owners can work together. Regular testing of GFCI receptacles and circuit breakers is needed to verify that these devices will operate when the need arises. Regular inspection of grounding and bonding conductors is also a must to make sure that these needed pathways are still in place both to open the OCPD when equipment fails and to eliminate dangerous voltage gradients that could lead to electric shock drowning or electrocution.

 

Staying safe in and around pools from electricity is often not the first thought on our minds when the temperature climbs and we head poolside to relax and unwind. But with a little attention to maintenance and inspection of the measures put in place at the time of installation, we can do that cannonball without a second thought. 

 

So now that you’re aware of how pools are built to protect you from electricity (even if you don’t understand all of the requirements) remember to work together with a local qualified electrical who can help you with maintenance and inspections, and can answer any questions you may have. Then kick back and enjoy your time around the pool this summer knowing you’ve put safety first!

 

 For additional pool safety tips, resources and information, check out NFPA’s website.

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!

May is National Electrical Safety Month and the theme this year is “Electrical Safety During Natural Disasters.” While this event is sponsored by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), still so much of what we do here at NFPA is closely aligned with the mission of this campaign. We aim every day to keep everyone safe from electrical hazards during a natural disaster and all other times of the year.

 

Electrical safety during a natural disaster is often the last thing on the mind of those who are watching their entire lives floating away in flood waters. Often in this situation emotions are on high and the concern is with preserving and saving items within a home that represent far more than just physical objects. Think about how many items you might have in storage that hold a sort of sentimental value. Items that if lost in a flood would be devastating to give up. Personally, I can think of a few boxes that live in my basement that are 100% irreplaceable.

 

But what would I do if I suddenly found my basement full of water from a storm? Would I attempt to rescue the precious memories stored within those boxes? Are there any dangers to attempting such a daring rescue? Unfortunately, I would have to ride this one out. During a flood, there are often times where water will rise to above the receptacle height and can become energized. Combined with the fact that underneath this watery intruder lays numerous paths that provide a way for current to get back to the source. Flooded basements can often become a potential killer.

 

Entering flood waters in a basement for any reason can be fatal, but there are a few precautions that you can take to ensure that you don’t find yourself wading through water that you might never return from.

 

First, if you know the possibility of a flood exists or that an upcoming storm presents strong wind and lightning potential, it is a good idea to turn off all non-essential circuits. However, making the call on what is considered “essential” or not can be tough if you don’t know the ins and outs of how your house is wired. Therefore, many recommend turning off the main disconnect to the home to prevent damage to the wiring system that might occur due to line surges and high voltage crossovers. This also de-energizes any equipment that could lead to an electrical hazard if flooding occurs. If there is a back-up generator installed for the home, turning it off as well can help prevent electrified flood waters.

 

Second, if at all possible, move precious or important items to “higher ground.” If you know that a big storm is coming and the possibility of a flooded home is real, move your important items to an upper level of the home. This way you are not tempted to forge your way through potentially hazardous flood waters to save your things. In past flood disasters, there have been many instances where folks have been injured due to electrified water; being prepared for this kind of event can keep you from adding to the statistics.

 

Third, It is also important to ensure that all safety devices such as GFCI and surge protective devices are in good working order. The manufacturers of these items will spell out how to test and maintain this equipment. Keep in mind that most manufacturers have recommendations for regular testing and maintenance to make sure these devices will function when needed. So before putting your life on the line or assuming that your home theater is protected by that surge protection device, verify that these devices are in good working order by following the recommended testing procedure.

 

Lastly, DO NOT re-energize any electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters. It is impossible to know the extent of the damage without having a competent individual such as an electrician or inspector evaluate the equipment prior to turning it back on. Flood waters usually consist of more than just water and even though equipment might be completely dry, there is no telling what else could have been left behind. Often equipment that has been submerged in a flooded home will just need to be replaced. Some equipment might be able to be refurbished, however when you weigh the cost of refurbishing vs replacing, it is usually more cost effective and quicker to replace the damaged item.

 

These are just some high level items to help keep us all safe this storm season. While many of you are already on NFPA Xchange and regularly consume safety-related content like this, we all have family and friends who might have no idea what to do in a storm to protect their belongings and stay clear from danger zones that can be present after disaster strikes. Please share this blog and additional information that can be found on the NFPA Emergency Preparedness website. Until next time, be safe!

What goes into the design of the electrical system in a residential building? The answer to this varies with the complexity of the installation. A single family home has less to consider than a large multi-family apartment complex with common areas and amenities for the residents. In a single family dwelling unit, the major considerations are usually just the size of the service, receptacle outlet layout, and whether or not the appliances are electric or gas. There might be some variations on this - maybe there are outbuildings or a pool, or maybe a PV system - but those are not the norm for the majority of new construction. However, that’s not to say they won’t be in the future.

So what are the design considerations for the service? Well, again, this is determined based on the answers to many questions. What is the square footage of the house? Are the appliances gas or electric? Is there going to be air conditioning? Is the furnace/boiler electric? Do we know what other special electrical needs are being requested by the homeowner? For the most part, most single family homes fall into the 100, 150, or 200 ampere service range and in some cases a 200A might even be a request even though a 100A service would suffice per Article 220 of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®). For instance, my house was probably adequately supplied by a 60A service back in 1938 when it was built, long before the 100A minimum requirement. However, when I bought the house and changed out the service, I was more than happy to pay the extra money for the 200A service since now I know that I will be covered in my electrical needs down the road. This attitude, though, is something above and beyond what the NEC® requires.

The next big consideration that comes up is the layout of receptacle outlets. For the most part, the NEC allows you to place receptacles as you wish with a couple of conditions to keep in mind. Remembering that the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity, it helps to give some context to the minimum receptacle outlet requirements. When building a home, you often have no idea what types of equipment the homeowner is going to use, what the furniture placement will be, or how the electrical system is going to be used. This is theelectrical reason for certain requirements in Article 210 for maximum spacing of receptacle outlets and for requiring that receptacle outlets be within a certain distance of a feature of the home. For example, there must be a bathroom receptacle outlet supplied by a 20A branch circuit dedicated as a bathroom branch circuit, and located within 3’ of the outside edge of each basin or sink. Why? Because it can be reasonably assumed that the occupants are going to be using some form of hair care or beauty appliance like a hair dryer or curling iron while in that location. This eliminates the need for an extension cord to be used to supply power to this location. Not that the use of extension cords is inherently dangerous, but when used as the normal way to supply power to an area, they are being used in a way that they were not intended to be used and can be exposed to damage if they are left in place.

In addition to the requirement for placement of bathroom receptacle outlets, there are also maximum spacing requirements for receptacle outlets serving counter-tops or other work surfaces, maximum spacing requirements for receptacle outlets in habitable rooms, and minimum requirements for providing receptacle outlets in other areas of a residence where electricity is likely needed such as in the garage or outside. Keep in mind however that these requirements are just a minimum and that what you are asked to consider in the design of the building might be different. However, the final lay out must still meet the minimum. An example that always seemed to come up for me was installing receptacle outlets in a bedroom. Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t always know what the furniture layout will be but sometimes we can take an educated guess. It is often evident in floor plan of a master bedroom as to where it makes sense to put the bed. As a homeowner there is nothing worse than finding that perfect spot for the bed and when you finally get your new room put together, BAM! The only receptacle outlet that is even close to your nightstand is right in the middle behind the headboard. For this reason, I would always lay out the receptacle outlets based on whether a room has a logical spot for a bed. This might have caused me over the years to have put in an extra receptacle outlet or two, but it saved me from being the guy getting cursed out by the new homeowner because they don’t have power where they need it. But again, it’s important that I point out here that the NEC does not require that this approach be taken. The requirement in the NEC is that no point be farther than six feet from a receptacle outlet measured along the floor line. And while the receptacle outlet in the middle of the bed space might be annoying, it is probably also code compliant.

When it comes to design considerations for a residential installation I am always reminded of the fact that the NEC is not a design specification or an instruction manual for untrained persons. This point means that those who are installing systems covered by the NEC are intended to know what they are doing. It is also important to remember that the requirements that are found in the NEC are there to safeguard people and property from electrical hazards and that nothing in the NEC prevents a system from having convenience and functionality baked into the design or providing for peace of mind in knowing that the future was considered in the initial installation, even though it is 100 percent not a code requirement to account for future additions. As long as the minimums are met and the maximums aren’t exceeded, taking more than code into account during the design of residential occupancies can often be the difference between good reviews and rave reviews.

To the electrical contractor, it is a job or a project, but to the homeowner it is their world.

For more about this topic, subscribe to NFPA's NEC Connect Newsletter and visit our NEC webpage for additional information including related codes and standards, helpful products, training, certfications, news and resources, and more.

Asset(s)

Employee safety training usually isn’t the first thing that a CEO or business owner thinks about when he/she wakes up in the morning. However, it can often be the difference between business as usual, staring down millions of dollars in OSHA citations or worse, an incident that got an employee injured or killed. The good news is that there is so much training available today that it should be easy for employers to bring their employees up to speed on the information they need to ensure a safe workplace, right?

Unfortunately, if the answer were yes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. In fact, over the years I have gotten questions from stakeholders all over the country asking such questions as: What do my employees need to be trained on? What type of training is acceptable? How often do they need this training? 70e

As we head into National Electrical Safety Month here in May, it is important that we pause to think about items like this.

I recently did a webinar for EC&M magazine that broke down the requirements for training found in NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. View the full webinar here.

In this webinar I went through what training does NFPA 70E require for qualified persons? How about unqualified persons? I also explored some of the ups and downs of the current training landscape and explored some new frontiers that electrical safety training is entering.

In this day and age of instantaneous access to information, we should and must be able to answer all of the questions surrounding electrical safety training so that no workplace is left in the dark. (Yes, that is a little bit of electrician humor because if your electrician is lying on the ground after getting shocked, who is left to connect the lights?) In all seriousness though, we do have the ability to get information into the hands of those that need it almost instantly today and there really is no excuse for not knowing anymore. When it comes to electrical safety in the workplace, there is so much information available and more ways to consume it than ever before. However, none of that matters without making an effort. You shouldn't view training as something you are being forced to do;  consider taking the necessary training because you know it will help keep you and others around you safe while at work.

Through continued engagement in the electrical safety culture we CAN make an industry shift from taking safety training because we have to, to taking training because we need to know how to make a safe workplace. At NFPA we are happy to continue with resources that can help, such as the above mentioned webinar and the various other channels with which we try and get information out to the world.

Check out the webinar, leave a comment, ask a question, and spread the word. Also, make sure to follow me here on NFPA Xchange as I plan to roll out a series of blogs during the coming weeks in the spirit of National Electrical Safety Month; your interaction and engagement is what keeps us going at NFPA!

marinas

Spring is right around the corner and after the winter that many of us have experienced, especially in the northern regions of this country, I know I’m not alone when I say that it can’t come soon enough! The snow will melt, the grass will grow, trees will bud, and people will flock to the water. But there is a hidden danger - electricity - in marinas and boatyards that many of us may not be aware of. So whether you own the marina or you're a contractor who services one, there are key safety steps that must be considered and acted upon.

 

As many of us know, electricity finds its way into the water through a myriad of ways and often can be deadly before an issue is noticed. However, many of the problems that can exist in and around docks and marinas can be prevented or mitigated. Actions can be taken to ensure that the equipment designed to keep us safe remains functional. Regular inspections, testing, and maintenance help to find deficiencies in the system and lifesaving equipment such as ground-fault circuit interrupters. When docks and marinas open up in the springtime they need to be ready to operate safely.

 

So what does this entail? Taking a deeper dive into the integrity of the electrical system before the boats arrive. What exactly should a marina owner be looking for? Where should they be looking and what should they be doing to make sure that the summer doesn’t start off in tragedy? The following are three considerations you must keep in mind:

 

            1. Test, test, and test some more!

Devices like GFCI receptacles and ground-fault protection circuit breakers always come with a recommendation from the manufacturer to test their functionality on a regular basis. Each device needs to be tested to ensure that it will work when it needs to work. Every manufacturer has their own process, but the basics are the same. Activate the test function, often a button with the word “TEST” on it, and verify that the circuit has indeed been interrupted. This can usually be accomplished without the need for fancy testing equipment, often a simple plug-in circuit tester is sufficient to show power is on and off after the “TEST” function of the receptacle or circuit breaker has been activated. It should be noted that it is important to use the provided test button and not one on a “tester” as the manufacturer put it there for a reason. Many manufacturers require the provided test button be used to verify operation of the unit, but you should check with your specific equipment as to what is allowed.

 

2. Check the physical condition of the wiring system

The shoreline of a body of water can be an unforgiving place and is brutally hard on electrical systems that are installed in and around the water. Raceways can come apart at fittings from movement due to waves, collisions with boats can damage wiring methods or shake loose connections, and moisture can wreak havoc on anything metal. And if your marina is close to the ocean, all of these issues can be far more exaggerated. So where to look? Wiring around expansion joints or where a dock or pier connects to a solid structure tend to be exposed to movement that is likely to separate conduits whether they are glued or mechanically connected. Another point in the system that is prone to damage is where conduits or other types of raceways connect to fixed equipment. For this reason, keep an eye out for raceways that have pulled loose from boxes and terminations around equipment like shore power outlets or lamp posts. Also, make sure that raceways are still adequately supported. Often the corrosive environments around water can lead to screws and fasteners rusting and falling apart. This can then put a strain on the raceway terminations and ultimately the conductors themselves.

 

3. Obtain a leakage current measurement device

A leakage current measurement device is a tool that every marina owner should have. In fact, per the 2020 National Electrical Code® these devices are required where there are more than three receptacles that supply shore power to boats. This allows the boats themselves to be tested to see how much current is leaking into the water from the boat. However, they will only work to prevent hazards from the boats if marina owners have them and use them.

 

So remember, inspecting electrical systems is the first line of defense against this silent killer that can turn fun into tragedy without warning. Testing the lifesaving devices like GFCI receptacles and GFP circuit breakers can ensure they operate when we need them the most. And having the right tools to determine where the problem is coming from can also help prevent problem boats from connecting to the electrical system and putting a hazard on your shores.

 

For additional, related information, please visit NFPA’s NEC webpage.

Historic flooding in the Missouri River and Mississippi River basins has plagued the Midwest in recent days. While Nebraska and Iowa are seeing the worst of the flooding, still more rivers in six states at over 40 different locations have reached record levels.

 

In response to this crisis, NFPA is offering a timely video resource to help contractors in these areas assess electrical equipment that has been exposed to water through flooding. The video is part of NFPA’s popular and ongoing NFPA Live series and appeared in September 2017. During this live video event, host Gil Moniz, a former Senior Electrical Specialist at NFPA, answered follow-up questions submitted through the commenting tool.

 

The presentation provides information on how to assess electrical equipment that has been exposed to water through flooding. Moisture from flood water or contaminates in the water may affect the reliability and functionality of electrical equipment. Electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely hazardous and must be properly assessed before it can be put back into service.

 


 

NFPA has additional, related information on this topic including NFPA 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, which provides a useful framework for recovering electrical equipment and systems after a disaster.

 

This NFPA Live has now ended. If you have further questions on this topic please submit a question through our Members' Only Technical Question service. If you are having trouble viewing this video there is an alternative version here.

 

Is the electrical industry 'qualified' for safety in the same way we require workers to be qualified? NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace provides a definition for a "qualified person" and requires that only qualified workers perform work involving electrical hazards. However, the fact remains that in many aspects, the electrical industry as a whole is not supportive of a safety culture.


In my recent NFPA Live, I presented examples that demonstrated how, as an industry, we have yet to adopt safety on the same level as energy efficiency and functionality. During the live event I answered this question from a member. I hope you find some value in it.


NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!

 

Keeping employees safe from electrical hazards is a number one priority in a facility; it is also the law. Developing and implementing an electrical safety program (ESP) is a key step to creating a workplace that doesn’t put employees in harm's way. However, building a program from scratch or rebuilding a flawed program can be quite daunting. To help you, NFPA developed a new workshop that provides you the opportunity to practice many of the steps needed in developing an ESP. The first offering of this application-style workshop is being held in August on the island of Maui in Hawaii and promises to provide attendees with the needed experience to develop effective electrical safety programs in their own facilities.

 

In my recent NFPA Live session I focused on one of the exercises from this new workshop, which is designed to help you determine if a task is justified to be performed while energized. I received this follow-up question from a member. I hear this question a lot so I’m sharing my answer here with you.

 

Check out the video to hear the question and response, then get more info and register for this groundbreaking electrical safety training in paradise. I hope you find my response valuable and hope to see you in Hawaii. Mahalo!

 

Derek Vigstol is an electrical technical lead at NFPA. NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!

Of all the new and exciting things going on at NFPA recently, one of the things that has me most excited is the new types of training being developed and the new places training is being held. With a background in the training world prior to coming on board here at NFPA, I tend to get nearly as excited about new electrical safety training as my daughter does on that final day of the school year in mid-June. This year I have had the pleasure of being a part of the team that developed the first offering of a new workshop format for NFPA electrical safety training.
This particular workshop is just a taste of the direction in which future NFPA electrical trainings could be headed. The workshop is Developing an Electrical Safety Program Based on NFPA 70E and has been a joint effort in development between NFPA and Mr. SeaRay Beltran (picture at right). With facility managers, building owners, safety directors, and anyone else responsible for electrical safety in the workplace in mind, we developed a one-day workshop that walks participants through many of the activities necessary in the development of an electrical safety program. This workshop is a departure from traditional electrical safety training because very little time is spent on the content of NFPA 70E® and almost all of the time is focused on practicing the process of developing and electrical safety program. As much as I like to hear the sound of my own voice, standing in front of a class and rattling off requirements from 70E seem a bit counter-productive.
Throughout my career I have been through class after class where the instructor stood in front of the class and poured out a wealth of knowledge hoping that a good amount would stick. However, statistics show that only about 5% of information delivered in the straight lecture format is retained, whereas, practice by doing has around a 75% retention rate. That is why I am so excited about this class! Participants start out by having the stage set of how a breakdown in safety has landed them as the new facilities director for a fictitious university and now they are tasked with developing a new electrical safety program that will not repeat the previous program’s mistakes. They’ll start by examining the old plan to identify what went wrong and then determine who needs to be a part of the team to develop the new plan. From there, participants walk through the process of determining what safety controls must be a part of the program and what procedures must be developed as part of the process. We’ll walk through a risk assessment, how to determine whether or not energized work is justified, and it will all culminate in the capstone project that has participants work on their own to develop the program for the on-campus hospital.
The combination of doing the work with guidance from NFPA experts will give the participants the tools they need to go back to their place of business and develop a solid program of their own. Another highlight of this one-day workshop is the fact that we have the opportunity to offer the first one in SeaRay’s home state of Hawaii, on the island of Maui! This brings NFPA electrical training to the Hawaiian Islands and gives local folks the opportunity to take our training in their own backyard, however, this doesn’t mean that it’s only open to Hawaiians. By all means feel free to join us no matter where you are at.
To piggy back on the opportunity to bring the workshop to Hawaii, NFPA has also decided to offer our standard 2-day NFPA 70E® Classroom training with certificate of educational achievement in the two days prior to the workshop. So for those who need to get up to speed with all of the requirements of the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E before going through the workshop, the option is there for a full 70E seminar ending with how to develop an electrical safety program. Then, after the dust clears, you’re still in Hawaii! It’s a win-win, NFPA 70E and Maui. How does electrical safety training get any better?

I'm often perplexed at what is the most effective method of improving the safety of electrical installations around the world. Should we focus on providing the installation community with better tools, assistance and guidance on installing electrical equipment or should we focus on supporting the inspection community and rely on the AHJ community to ensure that installations are safe upon completion? To me it's a little bit of a chicken and egg paradox. On one hand, better and more thorough enforcement of Code requirements will lead to more installations that meet or exceed the requirements of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC). But on the flip side, if we focus on helping the installation community, it leads to compliant installations long before the AHJ ever steps foot on a job site.


Each approach presents its own unique set of pros and cons. For instance, creating a culture where inspection is less needed due to better installations opens the door down the road for installers to cut corners where they know inspectors won't look. It also allows government officials to use a "lack of citations" as fuel for discussions around manpower. If a jurisdiction is seriously looking at cutting staff salaries to meet budget constraints, they might look upon this as an opportunity to cover larger territories with less inspectors; after all, the electricians in the area must really know what they are doing when inspectors rarely cite NEC® violations. I think for now the answer lies somewhere in the middle between the two extremes: provide tools, training, and solutions that set installers up to be able to install electrical system while reducing the friction that exists when referencing the NEC. At the same time, provide the inspection community with guidance and training on how to perform electrical inspections and needed guidance on professional qualifications for electrical inspectors.


NFPA has been busy over the last year developing two new documents to provide this needed guidance. NFPA 1078: Standard for Electrical Inspector Professional Qualifications and NFPA 78: Guide on Electrical Inspections were created in response to a call for help from the inspection community. Recently, NFPA’s Jeff Sargent discussed the development of these documents during an NFPA Live Member’s Only event. Here is the portion of the video where he breaks it down.

 

 

Simultaneously, NFPA has been busy putting together a plan for how to reduce friction between the NEC and its users. As we all know, the book itself can be difficult to read and understand. Providing training and products that offer a better explanation of code requirements and how to apply provisions of the NEC has been a core focus of NFPA lately. Tools and solutions that both save time and present needed information to the installation community at the time that they need it will work two-fold in improving electrical safety. By making both the installer’s job easier and more efficient, they are able to serve more clients while fostering a better understanding of NEC requirements. When more jobs are being completed by qualified personnel and being completed in compliance with the NEC, the safety of our installations increases significantly.

 

It is an exciting time here at NFPA as we focus on transitioning a 120-year-old standards development organization to a modern-day information and knowledge provider committed to improving the safety ecosystem and eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

May is National Electrical Safety Month and as part of NFPA's mission to help save the world from electrical hazards, we have joined forces with the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi). This year's theme is "Understanding the Code that Keeps Us Safe."  That means sharing information with the world that helps build an understanding of how the National Electrical Code (NEC) became what it is today. Connecting the dots between the problem and the solution can often be difficult when we aren't in the room during the code debate. However, recent requirements around protecting people from electrical hazards in, on, or near bodies of water or pools have been the topic of many recent open discussions and the I have broken out the major points below. 
Everybody knows that electricity and water are a bad combination. Many movies have shown how the hero can thwart the evil plans of a world-wide crime syndicate by electrocuting the main bad guy as they stand in a puddle of water, probably sometime after they activated every sprinkler head in the building with a lighter. Or maybe you can relate to getting a cell phone wet, only to find the circuits short out and sensitive electronics burn up inside the phone rendering it useless. I'm sure we can all come up with a million other examples of how water and electricity don't mix. It is a universally-known fact and one that we learned from a very young age. Or did we?
The state of electricity today - in and around water
How many of us have a pool in our backyard? Or a light at the end of our dock? Or an electrically-powered boat lift? Or maybe you have a boat with a layout that more resembles the comfort of an RV with a 104" flat-screen TV in your stateroom. Many boats today have gone way beyond your grandfather's 14- foot aluminum fishing boat. I could go on about all of the places we ask for electricity without ever thinking about the hazards. But instead, I will start by asking one very important question. What dangers do we face when we put electricity near water? The two major hazards in my mind are, Shock/Electrocution and Electric Shock Drowning (ESD). Let's first talk about what these two things mean.
Electrocution and Electric Shock Drowning (ESD)
Electrocution is death by electric shock. This usually means that an electricity travels through the body on a path with sufficient current, typically somewhere between 0.1A and 0.5A, across the heart causing it to stop pumping blood. This can happen when an individual comes in contact with an energized thing (i.e. metal ladder, electrical equipment, water) and completes the circuit allowing that current to return to the source. This is the same hazard that exists on dry land as well; if you complete the path, Chances are it is going to be severe.
Electric Shock Drowning on the other hand is an entirely different animal. As the name suggests, there is a shock component of this silent killer, but no need to complete a path. What happens in this situation is that an energized component makes contact with the water because the path back to the source is often through the earth and water. This creates voltage gradients within the water and as an individual swims through this area, smaller currents interfere with the body's nervous system and cause temporary paralysis, leading to the individual being unable to stay afloat and eventually drowning. It is sometimes difficult to determine if ESD was to blame since the actual cause of death is drowning and many cases have probably gone undocumented.
If it sounds scary, it is. But there is good news. Many intelligent people are coming together to figure out ways to try and protect swimmers in the water, while at the same time support the needs of boat owners (who feel compelled to cut corners and remove safeguards designed to eliminate deaths in the water). 
Ground-Fault Protection
One measure that has proven to be successful in protecting against shock is ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs. We find these in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas outside. The basic concept of these devices is that they monitor what goes out and what comes back and when there is a difference (meaning, the current goes somewhere else). Since that "somewhere else" could be a human body, it opens the circuit. One of the issues with GFCIs is that the trip value is set very low, between 4-6mA. This is great for protection against the type of shock that causes electrocution. But when we apply this level of protection to boats, it becomes a problem. Due to the extreme conditions that boats are subjected to, nearly every boat on the water (that utilizes shore power) today has leakage current in this range. As current leaks into the water, it lessens the further from the source it gets. So through all of the research we have found that swimmers won't be subjected to the full amount of current as they would if they were making contact with an energized component. 
I used to get calls from irate boat owners who were at their wits end about how to get power to their boats. That dang GFCI just keeps tripping, they'd say! And I know that many of them waited until after the inspection and found a solution outside of what the NEC allows (if you know what I mean), which, in my opinion, is on par with letting your children make toast while taking a bath. However, while nobody would allow a child to take a bath while using a toaster, many people still bragged on social media about how they waited for the inspector to sign off and then pulled out the ground-fault protection. This just blows my mind!   
Marina safety
Based on these issues, the result of the discussions when it comes to changes in the NEC is one of a happy medium designed to protect swimmers from ESD, and centers around this: 30mA. At this level it is not likely that enough current could pass through a person to cause the temporary paralysis that leads to ESD. However, the conversation didn't end there. For the 2017 NEC it was decided that from an installation stand point it would be best to limit any and all leakage current to 30mA. This included feeders and service level overcurrent devices. The problem is that leakage current on the service is additive, so it doesn't take long to hit that 30mA mark. For instance, a marina with 11 boats that each leak 3mA would cause this protection to jump into action even though 3mA is below the trip value set to protect us in the kitchen and bathroom. To find out how some of the conversation played out, check out my recent In Compliance column in NFPA Journal magazine. 
Through all of the well-intended efforts to protect us around new installations, you're probably asking, "But what about my marina that was built in 1984?" And here is where we run into issues. There are many existing marinas and docking facilities where none of these precautions have been taken, so how do we handle those? Well, this is where we need your help. This is where we need to educate people across the country about why it is so dangerous to jump in the water in these areas. Check out NFPA's video below on water safety aimed at informing the public of the dangers surrounding marinas, docks, and boatyards. 
 
So I hope this helps shed some light around these silent killers lurking in the water and I encourage all of us to do our part to foster discussions in our communities about safety in the water. The Electric Shock Drowning Association along with the Electrical Safety Foundation International both have some great resources in battling this deadly issue. You can also find information on NFPA's "electrical safety around water" webpage. Through awareness of this disturbing trend, we aim to educate people on why we need certain safeguards in and around marina and dock installations. Everything points to fixing the problem, not removing the solution, so I leave you with this final question, "Are you ready to stop swimming with toasters in the water?"

During my recent NFPA Live event I discussed some highlights from the 2020 NEC First Draft Meeting in January. Immediately following this event, I received this question from an NFPA member. I’m now sharing my answer with you and I hope you find it valuable.
You can also find additional information about the 2020 NEC first draft meeting in my latest In Compliance column in NFPA Journal.
Derek Vigstol is an Electrical Technical Lead at NFPA. NFPA Live is an interactive video series in which members of NFPA staff address some of the most frequent topics they receive through the Member's Only Technical Question service. If you are currently an NFPA Member you can view the entire video by following this link. If you're not currently a member, join today!

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