Important changes coming in NFPA 70E

The NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace” (Figure 1), has been around since 1976. The standard was ignored until two events occurred. The first event took place in the 2000 edition of the NFPA 70E. The tables—130.7(C)(a), 130.7(C)(10), and 130.7(C)(11)—provided, for the first time, a real method for electrical workers to choose what OSHA termed &#...

By Jim White, Shermco Industries, Dallas June 1, 2008

The NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace” (Figure 1), has been around since 1976. The standard was ignored until two events occurred.

The first event took place in the 2000 edition of the NFPA 70E. The tables—130.7(C)(a), 130.7(C)(10), and 130.7(C)(11)—provided, for the first time, a real method for electrical workers to choose what OSHA termed “appropriate electrical protective equipment” [29CFR1910.335(a)(1)]. This eliminated much of the confusion created when companies tried to comply with the federal regulations, but had no guidance in how to do so.

The second event appeared in the 2002 edition of the NEC, NFPA 70 Article 110.16, which was new to the NEC, required labeling of equipment to warn qualified workers about the hazard of arc flash and shock. As a result, the contracting industry had to attach labels and implement programs designed for arc flash protection.

The idea behind the policy is that workers will be less likely to ignore the hazards of their equipment if the labels are pasted in clear view. Consequently, when workers become more aware of the hazards of their jobs, they become more actively involved in the decision-making process regarding safety procedures.

The timeline for 70E revisions drastically changed due to the fact that the 2004 edition’s original plan was to be the 2003 edition, but was delayed due to issues with the tables. Some of the committee members wanted to use just the hazard for the hazard risk category levels, while others wanted to use risk as well. It was decided at that time to use the tables from the 2000 edition of the 70E, and several changes failed to make it into the tables. The 2009 edition’s goal was to be a 2008 edition, but the NFPA delayed it a year. As a result, the cycle did not coincide with the NEC cycle because many of the 70E committee members also served on the NEC panels.

With the committee action for the 2009 edition of the 70E complete and the Report on Proposals and the Report on Comments balloting finished, the Technical Correlating Committee (TCC) has the 70E revisions based on those two ballots and they will vote for what to accept or what not to.

This is where the confusion begins. Until the TCC accepts the 70E revisions, they remain tentative and not finalized. This will take place at a meeting in June 2008. The final version of the 70E will be completed and published in October 2008 and serve as the 2009 standard. Since the TCC will not accept some of the voted changes done by 70E committee, any discussion about changes in the 70E should be done with the understanding that the final information remains incomplete.

As a member of two task groups, the Word and Phrase Task Group and the Tables Task Group, I understand the committee’s goals. The committee members strive to make 70E as clear as possible in order to eliminate ambiguities, prevent misinterpretations, and ultimately provide safety to workers. Due to the safety implications associated with the ruling, electrical workers pour over every word of the committee’s standard with great purpose and interest.

The Word and Phrase Task Group determined that the use of the word “live” was jargon and thus unacceptable. In its place, the word “energized” is used. The word “live” is defined by the word “energized,” so as a result, the need for both was eliminated, the rationale being that the intent should be as clear as possible.

Two examples listed below on the change from “live” to “energized”:

  • …liveenergized electrical conductors or circuit parts…

  • The title of Article 130Working On or Near Live PartsWork Involving Electrical Hazards
    Instead of saying “working on or near,” which has always been problematic, the limits of approach will be used. The following three examples illustrate:

  • “…working on or nearwithin the Limited Approach Boundary…”

  • “…working on or nearwithin the Flash Protection Boundary…”

  • “110.8(A) General – Safety-related work practices shall be used to safeguard employees from injury while they are working on or nearexposed to electrical hazards from electrical conductors or circuit parts that…”

The new recommended wording is much clearer, leaving little or no doubt about the intent. Identifying the specific hazard of concern or, as in the third example, indicating all hazards, resolves the ambiguity issues and conveys a clear intent to the worker.

To a majority of electrical workers, tables are an area of high interest, but remain difficult to use. By reading the notes in the tables, many of the problems people have with the tables can be solved. In many cases, the workers fail to enhance their safety and actually put themselves into a more dangerous situation. The Tables Task Group worked to make the tables clearer by using the same terminology found in the rest of the 70E: no use of “live,” “working on or near,” or other vague or misleading language.

In Table 130.7(C)(9), the addition of new tasks involving arc-resistant switchgear means that if properly secured, fire-resistant clothing or equipment are not needed to operate, install, or remove rack breakers. If the door is open, it would have the same level of risk as traditional switchgear.

In addition, infrared thermography became a task to some types of equipment. A reduced level of personal protective equipment (PPE) is allowable, if the thermographer does not remove panel covers and does not break the plane of the equipment. A new equipment category was added for “utilization equipment fed by a branch circuit of the panelboard or switchgear,” which applies to equipment such as receptacles, motors, and other small devices. In the past, there was no guidance for this type of electrical equipment.

The committee recommended removing Table 130.7(C)(10), the Hazard/Risk Category minus 1 (HRC -1). The committee found few people using it and the designation caused confusion. A new column, HRC 2* will take its place. HRC 1 will now require the use of an arc-rated face shield at a 4 cal/cm2 minimum. The format of the table has been changed so that each Hazard/Risk Category is now in its own box, across in rows, instead of columns.

The new tables, if approved by the TCC, will have a separate column for HRC 2*, which will give all the PPE and arc flash protective equipment needed for this level. The use of a balaclava hood, which is the flame-resistant (FR) sock hood used by various motor sports, is allowed for use in the HRC 2*. This provides an additional level of protection to the face and neck area, while protecting the back of the head, which the arc-rated face shield does not provide. A full arc flash hood is still applicable and, based on certain circumstances, could be preferable to the use of the balaclava hood. The committee changed the FR requirements to arc-rated because of the unsuitable garments that have an FR rating or designation.

In Table 130.7(C)(11), the typical clothing systems were revised to concentrate on the arc rating rather than the number of layers so newer technologies can be applied to arc flash protective clothing systems.

One of the biggest possible changes, provided it passes TCC, is the elimination of Chapter 4, which acts as an abridging of the NEC. In the past, the 70E and NEC were in the same cycle, so the material that made up Chapter 4 was from the previous NEC, rather than the newest. Corrected for this cycle, the consensus of committee members felt that Chapter 4 resulted in a higher number of issues, rather solving them.

All of the above changes are not set in stone. The standards process is in play until the TCC makes a final determination on the proposals.

Author Information
White is Training Director with Shermco Industries, Dallas.