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A brief look at some of the changes in the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E

By Kyle W. Morrison, senior associate editor

Recent developments in electrical safety have led to several changes in the latest edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s electrical consensus standard. The 2012 edition of the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplaces – more commonly known as NFPA 70E – was approved Aug. 31. The new edition updates the 2009 version; it will be updated again in 2015.

Many of the changes are in response to new information on the effects of arc flashes and blasts, as well as new developments in electrical designs and personal protective equipment, according to Quincy, MA-based NFPA.

“I agree with the changes, and think that this is a great step in the direction of providing information for protection against arc events,” said Wes Scott, manager of consulting services for the National Safety Council.

Certain aspects of past NFPA 70E editions have been incorporated into some OSHA electrical standards, but the consensus standard is not an OSHA standard, nor is it fully required to be followed by the enforcement agency. Still, many safety professionals support following the guidelines set forth in NFPA 70E to prevent incidents and injuries when working around electricity.

“Industry consensus standards such as NFPA 70E can be used by OSHA and employers as guides in making hazard analyses and selecting control measures,” former agency administrator Edwin G. Foulke said in a November 2006 letter of interpretation.

Additionally, consensus standards such as NFPA 70E can be relevant to a General Duty Clause citation, allowing OSHA to establish that a hazard is recognized and a feasible means of abatement exists. For this reason, employers whose workers deal with electricity benefit from staying up to date with NFPA 70E.

Major changes found in the latest edition include:

  • Electrical inspectors must comply with NFPA 70E. Although inspectors were never meant to perform work without being properly protected, the revised language in the latest edition removes any ambiguity, according to Scott.
  • Arc flash equations are included for direct current-specific systems.
  • Requirements delineating the difference between “risk assessment” and “hazard identification” have been revised.
  • “H/R Category 2*” has been eliminated, clarifying that all H/R Category 2 tasks require full-head PPE. Mundelein, IL-based safety consultant Bob LoMastro praised the move, and said having a Category 2 and Category 2* “confused too many people needlessly.”
  • A new term – “arc-rated” – has been added and refers to a material’s performance when exposed to an electric arc. All AR material is flame-resistant, but not all FR material may be arc-rated. Non-AR clothing cannot increase the arc rating of a clothing system through layering. “This will provide for much safer clothing when properly selected and worn,” Scott said.
  • Employees are required to be retrained at least every three years.
  • Text on warning labels for arc flash hazards has been clarified.
  • Annex P is newly added, and explains how to implement an electrical safety program aligned with occupational and health management safety standards.

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