NEC and Worker Safety

The National Electrical Code® (NEC) is a document that seeks the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity. This document offers value to those who work on electrical systems. The NEC is an installation code that includes provisions from which the electrical contractors benefit. These provisions exist in the system for years after the structure is built and in operation.

When it comes to electrical safety for the worker, you may automatically migrate to NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” but that’s not where you should stop. The NEC actually includes many provisions that are there for the electrical worker to help complement, and actually implement, the efforts of NFPA 70E. Remember, NFPA 70E differs from the NEC in some key ways that help illustrate how these documents work hand-in-hand for electrical safety for the worker.

Installation Code vs. Work Practice

First let’s talk a little about the differences between NPFA 70, the NEC, and NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.”

NFPA 70E is a “standard” that addresses electrical safety related work practices for employee workplaces that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of employees relative to the hazards associated with electrical energy during specific activities that include but are not limited to installation, inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electrical conductors and equipment. This standard is not an installation requirement. NFPA 70E is not enforced by the electrical inspection community but rather more often than not enforced after the fact by OSHA.

This is where the NEC plays a complementary role in this safety picture. The NEC is a “Code” that is enforced and addressed in the design and installation phases of the structure. The NEC seeks to provide the practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity through provisions that are considered necessary for safety. As noted earlier, the Code is enforced at the time of installation.

Lockout/Tagout is a good area to explore to illustrate the potential of how these two documents can and do work together. NFPA 70E includes practices around Lockout/Tagout going into great detail to help the worker ensure equipment is de-energized before work is conducted and assure it remains in that state while work is being conducted. The NEC complements this practice, as you will see below, with installation requirements then ensures provisions to affix Lockout/Tagout equipment to disconnecting means is present even when the lock is not in place.

The following discussion identifies areas of the NEC that help to provide safety for those who work in and around electrical equipment. This list is by no means an exhaustive research into this subject but rather offered as discussion points listed below with examples to help you understand this important relationship between the NEC and NFPA 70E.

  • Working Space and Guarding
  • Signs, Labels, and Markings
  • Making Safe
  • Arc Flash and Shock Protection

Working Space and Guarding

Having space to perform your work is fundamental when it comes to safety. When appropriate space is not afforded for the electrical worker, accidents are more likely. The NEC recognizes this fact. Article 110, “Requirements for Electrical Installations,” is a great place to start when it comes to requirements around working space. Sections 110.26, “Spaces about Electrical Equipment;” 110.32 “Work Space About Equipment;” 110.34 “Work Space and Guarding;” and 110.73 “Equipment Work Space” are specific sections that address this issue.

These sections saw a slight change in NEC 2014 as a distinction was made with respect to including “Switchgear” equipment in these requirements. In addition, some changes were ma