Chapter Corner

NFPA 70E: What's In Store for Electrical Contractors in 2018?

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Lateshutterstock_6.13.17.jpgr this year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) will introduce the 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® 2018. The electrical contractor community awaits each new edition of the standard with a mixture of curiosity, optimism, and dread – with good reason. Even seemingly minor changes can have a major impact on a contractor’s established workflow. Most changes necessitate additional training, and some require electrical workers to invest in new or updated equipment. To help electrical contractors prepare, here’s a peek at a few of the more notable changes to the NFPA 70E standard that will impact their day-to-day work practices.

The 2015 edition of the NFPA 70E standard included recommendations for implementing a risk assessment. This procedure identifies hazards, assesses risks, and implements risk controls. Electrical workers can identify the level of risk based on the likelihood of occurrence and severity of an injury. They can then apply the hierarchy of six control methods found in 110.1(G) to mitigate that risk. 
The 2018 edition of NFPA 70E will clarify that this process is required for every job. Risk analysis must be conducted by qualified professionals, including trained electrical contractors and electrical engineers, who will conduct electrical studies and arc flash analysis, resulting in an incident energy level. The new edition of the standard will include expanded tables that help electrical contractors understand what the incident energy level is and help in the estimation of likelihood of an event. This also helps contractors understand and pick appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and identify mitigation techniques.
This is a paradigm shift for some seasoned electricians who've been operating without this process for years. As it will be required in short order, electrical contractors would be well-served by incorporating the risk assessment process into elecrical job safety plans and ensuring workers are properly trained on risk controls and how to implement them.
Contractors will be interested to learn the 2018 standard includes a simple but impactful terminology change. Today, if a contractor has an electrical accident, then it must be investigated. An incident, which by definition includes near-miss events or a flash-over with no injury, also requires a formal investigation, even if no injury occurs. In the 2018 edition, ‘accident’ has been changed to ‘incident’ throughout the standard. This simple word change will introduce broad new requirements for the industry as it means all electrical events, including near-miss incidents, must be identified and investigated. This change is intended to reduce flash-overs, improve electrical safety practices, and discourage complacent behavior.
Another global change in the standard is the replacement of the term “available short circuit” with “available fault current.” Many types of equipment are labeled with a ‘short-circuit current rating,’ which represents the maximum level of short-circuit current that a component or assembly can withstand. This is equipment specific, not circuit specific, and has nothing to do with how much energy is available to that component. Available fault current is the maximum current available in the event of a short circuit that could cause an arc flash.
There has been some confusion in the field about what these terms refer to, leading to faulty and potentially harmful decisions. Some electrical workers have been using the short-circuit current rating to determine PPE, but they should be using the available fault current. It is critical to determine the actual fault current that is available and how it will impact the clearing time of the associated overcurrent protection devices. It may not initially be intuitive, but over-estimation of the fault current can lead to an expectation of a shorter clearing time. Not understanding the actual clearing time will, in turn, lead to an underestimation of the available
incident energy and necessary PPE.
Considering the importance electrical professionals attach to PPE, it may be surprising to learn that there’s no conformity assessment requirements to which protective equipment must comply – until now. With the 2018 edition of the NFPA 70E, there will be a new requirement for conformity assessment for PPE. Similar to the listing and labeling requirements on new computers or equipment declaring it has been evaluated by a third party for compliance, PPE must now have a rating and declaration of assessment and compliance. However, the equipment does not necessarily need to be assessed by a third party to be compliant. PPE suppliers can either self-declare their equipment meets requirements and has a certain rating or they can use a third-party organization to test and rate their equipment. The same evaluation criteria remain, which primarily are based on ASTM testing methods.
If there’s one thing electrical contractors know for certain, it’s that changes to codes and standards are constant. The 240-plus changes pending inclusion in the NFPA 70E 2018 edition range from minor adjustments to major overhauls, but they are all intended to make the electrical workplace safer. And that’s a change we can all get behind. 
Rod West is a senior staff engineer for Schneider Electric. Rod holds a BS from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and is a registered professional engineer. He has worked in the electrical industry for over 25 years and holds a total of 11 patents for various types of electrical equipment and components. Rod serves
on the Board of Directors for Whitewater Valley REMC, is a NAFI Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator, and is a member of the Electrical Section of NFPA. He serves as a principal member of both NEC Code Making Panel #8 and NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.