Electrical Preventive Maintenance and Changes to NFPA 70E

Tim Rohrer | President / Founder, Exiscan

Tim Rohrer, the founder, and CEO of Exiscan Infrared Windows has seen electrical safety standards change significantly over the years. These changes make your electrical preventive maintenance program or services group even more valuable to the organization.

The changes are also detailed in the book Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace and its corresponding handbook, which gives a lot of background for the decisions and discussion behind the evolutions in the code.

What Makes Electrical Hazards Unique?

Electrical incidents rarely happen, but when they do, they are significant. While only 0.16% of non-fatal industrial accidents are electrical, making it easy for managers to say, “That never happens here”, shock ranks number two insignificant injuries that result in missing work, after burns, and electrical accidents rank fifth or seventh (depending on classification) for the most frequent cause of workplace fatalities.

Statistically, for every 300,000 at-risk behaviors at work, there are approximately 3,000 near-misses, 300 recordable injuries, 30 lost workday cases and one fatality. For electrical injuries, however, there is one fatality for every 10 recordable injuries, not 300, so when electrical injuries do occur, they are severe and disproportionately fatal.

What is NFPA 70E?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) started out doing sprinkler systems in 1896, and they promptly developed the National Electric Code (NEC), which details how to install electrical equipment properly. It was driven by the insurance companies because they found that their biggest losses in human life and property resulted from electrical fires caused by improperly built and poorly installed electrical equipment. Those statistics went down after NEC went into effect. In the 1960s, the insurance companies informed the NFPA that their biggest losses came from improperly maintained electrical equipment. This resulted in NFPA 70E; Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance

NFPA 70E, established in the 1970s, is a consensus standard that the industry has set as a best practice to use when working on and around electrical systems. It is considered to be de facto law, in fact, meaning that it can be brought forward in court if an accident occurs as a result of not following the code.

Evolutions in the 70E-2015 Revision

There are a number of significant changes to the code that appear in the 2015 book. One guideline is that all electrical work should be performed de-energized with few exceptions. One such exception is provided when de-energizing a circuit will cause harm, in which case a trained person can work on the system while energized. There is also an “infeasibility” clause in place for equipment that must be running for a person to check it, such as with infrared technology.

In general, a trained person can work on energized circuits if normal operating conditions are in effect. This means that one can engage with the equipment under the following conditions:

  • The equipment is properly installed
  • It is properly maintained
  • The doors are closed and secured
  • Covers are in place
  • There are no signs of impending failure

In 2018, the code added that the equipment must be used per manufacturers’ instructions. This was an important addition because the worker has to focus on a broader maintenance strategy. For instance, some places are dusty and dirty so workers must take extra precautions. The 2018 addition also makes any incident OSHA-reviewable.

Following these guidelines does not guarantee that there is zero risk but that there is an acceptable level of risk, also known as ALARP (as low as reasonably practical).

Importantly for condition monitoring professionals, there is more focus on the condition of equipment, equipment maintenance, and use of preventive and predictive maintenance standards as part of an electrical safety program.

A new section was included on condition of maintenance, which states that the electrical safety program shall include elements that consider the condition of maintenance of electrical equipment and systems. Further, the equipment owner is responsible for the maintenance of their electrical equipment.

It is a common industry practice to apply decals to equipment to indicate the test or calibration date and overall condition of that equipment. This can assist the employee in the assessment of electrical equipment maintenance status.

Again, they are focusing on maintenance as a critical aspect of your safety program. This is a good tool for anyone who wishes to show management the value of continuously improving their electrical preventive maintenance program.

Improper or inadequate maintenance can result in increased clearing times. For example, if you have not exercised a breaker in three years (it should be done annually, at least), it will not clear the fault as quickly as it should. Even a slight delay in clearing that fault will increase the incident energy level. In fact, it will double, triple, or quadruple. It will also cause people to have inadequate selection of personal protective equipment (PPE).

There was also a big evolution in PPE selection. Before we would first choose the machine, then the task and the chart would show which PPE to use. Now, we look at the task first and decide: is my task a likely or an unlikely trigger? If it is a likely trigger (see the normal operating conditions above), protect yourself according to equipment type.

Evolutions in the 70E-2018 Revision

The handbook has a chart at the front that shows the critical changes. One change in the 2018 revision that is especially relevant for condition monitoring professionals is a progressive focus on normal operating conditions and equipment condition and maintenance.

The most significant addition is a focus on risk assessment and the hierarchy of risk control. The old procedure was to identify the hazard and choose PPE. Now, there is a risk assessment procedure: Identify the hazards and assess the risk. If the task is a likely trigger, see the hierarchy of risk controls and implement them at the highest order available. The risk assessment procedure addresses the potential for human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, the work environment, and equipment. That shields the worker in the event of an accident.

The hierarchy of risk control is illustrated on the cover of the handbook. A couple of definitions are useful in understanding risk control. A hazard is a source of possible injury or damage to health. For electrical, there are two types of hazards. The arc flash hazard is quantified by the amount of incident energy. The shock hazard is quantified by the amount of volts. Risk is a combination of the likelihood of injury occurrence and the severity.

Hierarchy of Risk Control

  • Hazard Elimination (de-energizing, using inspection windows, etc.)
  • Substitution (automated racking system, current-limiting fuses, etc.)
  • Engineering Controls (current-limiting breakers, high-speed relays, high-resistance grounding, etc.)
  • Warnings (labels, etc.)
  • Administrative Controls (training, etc.)
  • PPE

The items in the hierarchy are not ranked by importance, but by effectiveness. Higher order controls, which are the top three in the list, are the most effective methods to control risk because they are applied at the source and are less likely to be affected by human error. Lower order controls, which are the bottom three in the list, are the least effective methods to control risk because they are not applied at the source and are more likely to be affected by human error. The book also contains a task table to help you decide if your task is a likely or unlikely trigger.

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About the Author

Tim Rohrer President / Founder, Exiscan

Tim Rohrer is Founder and President of Exiscan LLC — manufacturer of industrial electrical safety products including infrared windows, visual inspection windows and ultrasound ports.