This piece was originally published in the May 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.
By Brett Brenner, President of the Electrical Safety Foundation International
May is National Electrical Safety Month, and, while electrical safety should be a yearlong priority, it is important to have a month devoted to spotlighting safe electrical practices that should be commonplace at home and on the job.
I recently attended the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (better known as IEEE) Industrial Applications Society Electrical Safety Workshop, a forum serving to advance the application of technology, work practices, codes, and regulations to prevent electrical incidents and injuries in the workplace. It was humbling to be among the industry’s most influential people as they presented the latest in electrical safety technology and practices.
Building Safety into Design Process
One recurring theme was the concept of safety by design, which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines as “addressing occupational safety and health needs in the design process to prevent or minimize work-related hazards.”
An example of this concept was applied to the voltage-testing process by designing equipment with an installed testing instrument rather than relying on a manual testing device. This reduces exposure to electrical hazards and removes the possibility of human error.
While the technical aspects of safety by design are most commonly applied by engineers, its fundamental premise can be applied to occupations across the electrical industry to safeguard employees and consumers. Central to this approach is the enforcement of codes and standards such as NFPA 70E and the National Electrical Code® (NEC). Let’s examine how these codes and standards create the blueprint or design for electrical safety in the field and at home.
Design Your Safety Culture
NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace provides requirements for protecting personnel by reducing exposure to major electrical hazards. Key principles outlined in NFPA 70E include lockout/tagout processes, the proper use of personal protective equipment, and verifying that equipment is de-energized before work is performed (also known as the “test before you touch” method).
Failure to comply with these practices contributes to an estimated 187 electricity-related workplace fatalities per year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Creating a workplace culture that eliminates complacency by continually reinforcing the importance of the principles outlined in NFPA 70E can help minimize the risk of electrical injuries and fatalities.
The NEC is the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards. It is revised every three years to incorporate new advances in electrical safety technologies, improved installation and safety practices, and critical safeguards for consumers and electrical workers.
Examples of code-driven safety technology advancements include arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs). These three devices have been proven to save lives by eliminating electrical fires and instances of electrical shock, and application of these devices and the areas requiring their protection continue to expand with subsequent versions of the NEC.
Despite the capacity of the NEC to save lives and property, however, some jurisdictions resist the timely adoption of the newest edition, which precludes constituents from benefiting from the latest advancements in electrical safety. As an industry, we must confront these code adoption threats by educating policymakers and the public about the benefits of full and timely adoption of the NEC.
Codes and standards such as NFPA 70E and the NEC are the cornerstone for eliminating electrical hazards in our day-to-day lives. In the spirit of National Electrical Safety Month, make sure NFPA 70E is followed in your workplace and leverage your influence by helping raise awareness about the importance of the NEC.