NEC and Worker Safety Nov/Dec 16

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. We all too often forget about how important the NEC is to those working on, in, or around electrical equipment. Some State Code adoption hearings include discussions of delaying adoption of the NEC due to cost of the provisions within these requirements or even the cost of buying new books and conducting training. The most disappointing experiences in my book are the discussions that never happen as states drag their feet and take a casual approach to NEC adoption; yet another way to indirectly achieve a delayed adoption of requirements that are there to save lives and property.

The NEC is more than the benefits of the solutions contained within the document, such as Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI), Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), Tamper Resistant Receptacles, and labeling. Often, we overlook examples where the NEC works to ensure safety for those who work in or around electrical equipment. Many of these requirements are not product specific but rather address such relatively simple steps that need to be taken for safety, including but not limited to the layout of a room for emergency egress and ensuring panic hardware on doors for exit. The NEC offers a lot more than reduced property damage and safety for those that reside in a structure; the NEC offers value to those who work on electrical systems.

INSTALLATION CODE VS. WORK PRACTICE

NFPA 70 (NEC) and NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” differ but complement each other well.

NFPA 70E speaks to 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, which include but are not limited to installation, inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electrical conductors and equipment. This is not an installation requirement. NFPA 70E is not enforced by the electrical inspection community but is often enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The NEC is an installation “Code” that is enforced 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; a fact very important to grasp.

Lockout/tagout is a good area to explore to illustrate the potential of how these two documents work together. NFPA 70E includes practices around lockout/ tagout with great detail necessary 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 with installation requirements providing for hardware that is ready to receive lockout/tagout equipment, such as locks. The requirements here ensure that the provision on the disconnecting means is present even when the lock is not in place.

The following list are general topics where the NEC works to provide safety for those who work in or around electrical equipment. This list is offered as discussion points with examples to help in the understanding of this important relationship between the NEC and NFPA 70E.

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

WORKING SPACE AND GUARDING

Having space to perform work is fundamental when it comes to safety. The NEC recognizes this as part of the requirements found in Article 110, “Requirements for Electrical Installations:”

  • 110.26 “Spaces About Electrical Equipment”