What Is NFPA 70E?
NFPA 70E is a standard published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It defines work practices that protect workers from electrical hazards, including arc flash hazards, during the inspection, operation, and maintenance of electrical equipment.
NFPA 70E also specifies safe work practices for employees who may not be directly working on electrical equipment, but who are performing work that might expose them to electrical hazards.
Where Does NFPA 70E Apply?
The NFPA 70E standard covers most workplace activities related to electrical energy or equipment. The major exceptions are:
- Vehicles, such as ships, aircraft, and railway rolling stock.
- Railway electrical systems used exclusively for the operation of rolling stock or installations, or used exclusively for signalling and communications.
- Communications equipment, under the exclusive control of communications utilities, and located outdoors or in buildings used exclusively for such installations.
- Certain electrical installations under the exclusive control of an electric utility.
Where Can I Find the Text of NFPA 70E?
Print copies of the standard can be purchased directly from the NFPA at their website. A "Handbook" version of the standard includes the full text of the standard, along with informative explanations and illustrations. The NFPA also hosts the text of the standard on their website, where it can be read (but not printed or saved) at no charge after registration.
What Are the Differences Between the NEC, NFPA 70, and NFPA 70E?
The title of the NFPA 70 standard is "National Electrical Code" (NEC). Whether you say "NEC" or "NFPA 70," you're talking about the same document.
NFPA 70 discusses requirements for the design and installation of electrical systems. Because its users are mostly electricians and engineers, and the standard addresses technical issues, this standard can be difficult for non-experts to understand. At the same time, many parts of the United States have adopted this standard into their local building codes, making compliance with the NEC a legal requirement in those jurisdictions.
NFPA 70E, however, is a completely different standard. It discusses requirements for safe work practices in existing installations, specifically focusing on workplaces. Because it's focused on workplace safety, NFPA 70E uses less technical detail than the NEC does.
Does OSHA Require Compliance with NFPA 70E?
Technically, no. OSHA has not given NFPA 70E the weight of law. However, OSHA frequently uses NFPA 70E as an example of common industrial safety practices, to determine if employers are protecting their employees effectively.
As an example, OSHA's regulation in 29 CFR §1910.335(a) requires employers to provide their workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) that is "appropriate for... the work to be performed." How does OSHA decide what equipment is appropriate for specific work? Typically, they refer to accepted industrial practices for that work, and NFPA 70E is a widely-accepted and respected standard for safe electrical work practices. Effectively, OSHA requires employers to provide a safe workplace, and NFPA 70E tells employers how to do that.
What's the Difference Between a "Qualified Person" and an "Unqualified Person"?
NFPA 70E defines a qualified person as someone who has the skills and knowledge to work on electrical equipment, and who has received the training to identify and avoid the associated hazards. An unqualified person does not have these skills, knowledge, or training.
Because different equipment may pose different hazards, and different tasks may require different skills, it's possible for a given worker to be "qualified" for one job and "unqualified" for another.
What Does NFPA 70E Recommend to Prevent an Arc Flash?
The best way to deal with a hazard is usually to remove it entirely. Because arc flashes occur most often during work on energized equipment, the best approach is to power down the equipment and lock it out before beginning work. This is called lockout/tagout (LO/TO), and is the same process used in many other industrial situations to allow safe maintenance and repair.
Part of OSHA's regulation in 29 CFR §1910.333(a)(1) even states that "live parts to which an employee may be exposed shall be de-energized before the employee works on or near them, unless the employer can demonstrate that de-energizing introduces additional or increased hazards or is infeasible due to equipment design or operational limitations." Unless the equipment must remain energized, lock it out!
What Information do Workers Need for Work on Powered Equipment?
In addition to safe work practices specified in NFPA 70E, workers need to know the relevant details of the equipment they will work on. NFPA 70E requires that the equipment owner apply detailed and informative labels to any electrical equipment that is likely to require adjustment or maintenance while energized. As specified in Article 130.5(D) of the 2015 edition of the standard, these labels must include the following information:
- Nominal system voltage
- Arc flash boundary
- At least one of the following:
- Either the available incident energy and corresponding working distance, or the arc flash PPE Category for the equipment as listed in tables in the standard, but not both
- Minimum arc rating of clothing
- Site-specific level of PPE
Other information is often included as well, so these arc flash labels can serve additional purposes.
What is Required for NFPA 70E Training?
There is no single requirement for workers to be trained on the entire NFPA 70E standard. Instead, a recurring theme in the standard is that workers need to have specific training for the tasks they will perform.
If a task involves electrical hazards, only a qualified person should be allowed to do that work. To be qualified, the worker needs specific training that will allow them to perform the work safely. That training will include recognition of hazards, appropriate work procedures, and the proper use of protective equipment (including lockout/tagout equipment as well as PPE). General electrical safety training is a great first step, and it sets the foundation for the detailed training that workers need to stay safe on the job.