Electrical Safety in the Workplace | Standards Michigan

Electrical Safety in the Workplace

The original University of Michigan codes and standards enterprise advocated scalable, risk-informed approaches to electrical safety standards in the NFPA-70 suite. Its advocacy agenda for "rightsizing" power systems and expanding impedance grounding has proven correct in the fullness of time.


Electrical Safety in the Workplace

July 16, 2019
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“Telegraph Poles with Buildings” | Joseph Stella (1917)


Optimal electrical safety and reliability is strongly correlated with electrical maintenance — i.e. functional checks, servicing, repairing or replacing of necessary devices, equipment, machinery, building infrastructure, and supporting utilities in industrial, business, governmental, and residential installations.  As our electrical systems have evolved, maintenance work has come to include various cost-effective practices to keep equipment operational.  These activities take place either before or after a failure.  In either case, normal maintenance is “likely” to expose electrical workers to hazard.   The workplace is where maintenance occurs.

In electrical power systems, equipment and systems that control energy are designed to work, perhaps, only once or twice dependably in 25 to 50 years; if that.  Only safety-by-design and recommended maintenance can sustain the likelihood that safety and reliability expectations can be met.  Electrical maintenance usually involves exercising breakers, testing trip settings, confirming signaling paths in controls, software and the like.   Safety by design usually involves applying methods to minimize occupational hazards early in the design process, with an emphasis on optimizing employee health and safety throughout the life cycle of materials and processes.

There are several leading practice documents in this space; one of them IEEE 3007.2-2010 – Recommended Practice for the Maintenance of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems — and another — NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace — a trademarked document.   NFPA 70E is the go-to document for workplace safety regulators; heavily referenced into Occupational Safety and Health Administration documents*.   While the most concentrated locus of electrical safety expertise lies with the IEEE, the IEEE Standards Association chooses not to trademark its consensus products because that would require turning over its intellectual property to the public where its products are incorporated by reference into public safety regulations.  The NFPA,  with solid revenue from the fire safety industry,  is tooled up better for recapturing the cost of developing the NFPA 70-suite; generally — and NFPA 70E in particular.

With this short lesson in consensus document production economics let us turn our attention to NFPA 70E.  We are now deep into its 3-year 2021 revision cycle.   From the NFPA 70E prospectus:

This standard addresses electrical safety-related work practices, safety-related maintenance requirements,   and   other   administrative   controls   for   employee workplaces that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of  employees  relative  to  the  hazards  associated  with  electrical  energy  during  activities  such  as  the  installation,  inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electric conductors, electric equipment, signaling and communications  conductors  and  equipment,  and  raceways. This  standard  also  includes  safe  work  practices  for  employees  performing  other  work  activities  that  can  expose  them  to electrical  hazards  as  well  as  safe  work  practices  for  the following:

(1)  Installation of conductors and equipment that connect to the supply of electricity
(2)  Installations  used  by  the  electric  utility,  such  as  office buildings,  warehouses,  garages,  machine  shops,  and recreational buildings that are not an integral part of a
generating plant, substation, or control center.

Informational  Note:  This  standard  addresses  safety  of workers  whose  job  responsibilities  entail  interaction  with electrical equipment and systems with potential exposure to energized   electrical   equipment   and   circuit   parts.   Concepts  in  this  standard  are  often  adapted  to  other  workers whose exposure to electrical hazards is unintentional or not recognized as part of their job responsibilities. The highest risk  for  injury  from  electrical  hazards  for  other  workers involve  unintentional  contact  with  overhead  power  lines and electric shock from machines, tools, and appliances.

The Second Draft Committee meeting takes place July 16 – 18 at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana.   When the Second Draft Report is released to the public on or before January 22, 2020 we will have an opportunity to respond through the NFPA NITMAM procedure by February 19, 2020.   While we are happy to discuss this and any other regulatory product any day during our daily 11 AM Eastern time teleconferences, we refer most of the technical specifics to the IEEE Education & Healthcare Facilities Committee which meets online in European and American time zones every two weeks.


Issue: [3-3], [18-135]

Category: Electrical

Colleagues: Mike Anthony, Tammy Gammon, Jim Harvey, Joe Tedesco

*OSHA develops electrical safety documents of its own; the topic of a separate post since the jurisdictional politics are sensitive.  CLICK HERE for a preview.


ARCHIVE: University of Michigan NFPA 70E Advocacy (2003-2016)

In 2003, the original University of Michigan codes and standards advocacy enterprise began submitting proposals to reduce electrical hazards dramatically by reducing the size of transformers and introducing series impedance elements to throttle fault current.   Over a decade later, we find that both of these concepts are tracking in NFPA and IEEE consensus documents.   Here are two videoclips from IEEE-TV in which experts discuss the technical specifics:

IEEE Discussion of NFPA Research Foundation “Rightsizing” Project

IEEE Discussion of a safer grounding regime at the University of California

Rightsizing Electrical Power Systems

Impedance Grounding Proposal Example

“Living with Arc-Flash Mitigation” | Anthony Parsons and Jonathan Gray, IEEE Industry Applications Magazine, May/’June 2019


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