Achieve, Maintain Electrical-Safety Compliance
EP Editorial Staff | June 20, 2018
Follow these seven steps to build an electrical-safety program that prevents injuries and fines.
By Bryan Parkhurst, P.E., Vertiv
We’ve come a long way from the turn of the 20th century when some of the biggest threats to American workers were animals and hand tools. These days, plant workers face countless dangers, especially where power sources are concerned. In fact, two of 10 most-frequent Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington (OSHA.gov), violations are related to electrical safety.
Although accidents are declining across many critical industries, there are still 14 deaths every day. Tragically, in 2016 alone, more than 150 deaths were attributed to electricity exposure.
Not only do unsafe workplaces put personnel in jeopardy, they can directly affect company bottom lines. For example, OSHA fines can reach $12,600 for a single violation. Fines are multiplied for repeat offenders. In 2016, business spent $170 billion on costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses—expenditures that come straight out of company profit.
Statistics such as these are what call attention to electrical-safety compliance in the workplace. In fact, the issue is becoming a common boardroom topic given top management’s increasing concerns over the consequences they could face due to possible gaps in their compliance programs.
The following steps can help your site avoid such gaps and associated repercussions, not to mention reap benefits well beyond organizational safety.
1. KNOW WHAT IS REQUIRED
Because regulatory requirements are ever changing, and new ones continue to be developed, staying abreast of them can be a challenge, especially when the responsibility for compliance is dispersed among different departments, sites, and geographic regions. Having disparate requirements for what may be disconnected systems can lead to costly and dangerous oversights.
While best practice is to partner with regulatory experts who can support your compliance efforts, there are several key standards from the National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA (NFPA.org), with which all plant owners and operators should be familiar. They include:
• National Electrical Code (NFPA 70): Comprised of electrical safety standards intended to protect individuals from fire and shock hazards under normal conditions, NFPA 70 also provides the requirements for arc-flash labels.
• Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E): Covering safety-related work practices and maintenance, including those for special equipment, the purpose of NFPA 70E is to protect personnel by reducing exposure to major electrical hazards.
• Recommended Practice for Electrical-Equipment Maintenance (NFPA 70B): This standard details preventive maintenance for electrical, electronic, and communication systems and equipment such as those used in industrial plants. It aims to prevent equipment failures and worker injuries.
NFPA publishes more than 300 codes and standards. OSHA looks to the prescriptive-based requirements of these and other standards to fulfill the performance-based requirements included in its standards.
2. ASSESS THE STATUS QUO
Developing a plan to ensure electrical-safety compliance is nearly impossible unless you know the current state of your business. A comprehensive assessment will allow sites to identify areas of risk or non-compliance.
This assessment should go way beyond just taking an equipment inventory. Along with understanding all the assets of your electrical system, the condition of those assets and the system design should be reviewed. Additionally, connect with key site personnel to thoroughly understand their standard operating procedures and maintenance practices.
Information collected from this type of assessment can then be used to develop a plan for achieving electrical-safety compliance.
3. MITIGATE ARC FLASH
With plant operations experiencing higher system voltages and higher available fault current than in the past, a major portion of any electrical-safety compliance effort will include protecting employees from arc flash.
Not only can arc-flash incidents cause severe injury or death, they can disrupt business operations, damage equipment, result in legal liability, increase insurance premiums, harm a company’s reputation, and lead to regulatory fines.
An arc-flash-risk assessment is paramount to electrical safety and, in fact, a requirement of NFPA 70E. Facility owners are responsible for ensuring that one is performed prior to allowing an employee to work on or around energized equipment. It is this process that identifies the presence and location of potential hazards and may uncover the need for updated labels for equipment that could require maintenance while energized. Arc-flash-risk assessments can also support personal-protective equipment (PPE) plans and arc-flash-training programs.
4. USE PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE
Regular inspection and testing of your plant’s electrical system ensures system integrity and optimal operation. It, too, is required. NFPA 70E stipulates that equipment owners are responsible for maintaining electrical equipment in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions or industry consensus standards, including American National Standards Institute/International Electrical Testing Association Standard for Maintenance Testing Specifications (ANSI/NETA MTS), IEEE 3007.2, and NFPA 70B.
Furthermore, electrical-equipment maintenance must encompass protective devices to ensure they can adequately withstand or interrupt available fault current. These maintenance activities must be documented and maintained.
5. EMPOWER EMPLOYEES
To protect themselves, their coworkers, and the overall business, employees must be empowered through effective training. They need to understand the existence, nature, and causes of electrical hazards, as well as the methods for preventing them.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington (bls.gov), reported nearly 1,800 electrical injuries in 2016. Many of those injuries can be mapped back to insufficient training, which results in failure to follow appropriate procedures or take necessary precautions on the job. Inadequate worker knowledge also continues to be a key contributor to unnecessary equipment failures and unplanned shutdowns.
Training employees is not just a good idea for improving safety, it is required by OSHA and NFPA. Both groups provide guidance on the type and frequency of training required to ensure electrical workers are qualified.
NFPA states that qualified workers shall be trained and knowledgeable in the construction and operation of equipment or specific work methods; and that they must be properly trained to recognize and avoid the electrical hazards that might be present with respect to that equipment or work method. OSHA and NFPA go on to add that a qualified worker is one who demonstrates the skills and abilities to do those things.
Proving that your electrical workers are qualified comes down to documentation of training and audits of individual workers to ensure that each employee is complying with safety-related work practices. These types of audits must be performed at least annually. They are ideal for identifying skill deficiencies and the need for retraining. They can also indicate a need to overhaul portions of your safety training program or policy.
6. GET IT IN WRITING
Leveraging full knowledge of pertinent NFPA documents, along with IEEE standards (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standards, New York, ieee.org), develop a concise plan for your site’s system that includes permit information, safety checklists, standard operating procedures, lockout/tagout plans, and emergency protocols. Having all documentation ready for your employees ensures everyone is aligned.
7. CONTINUE THE PROCESS
The shifting and ever-changing regulatory environment around health and safety is causing plant owners/operators to adopt new strategies for ensuring electrical-safety compliance.
Especially for larger organizations with complex infrastructure, it has become clear that electrical-safety compliance isn’t a project with a start and finish. It is an endless responsibility.
Compliance efforts need to be ongoing, align with organizational goals, and become part of the fabric of your business. When they do, you’ll see benefits beyond just the safety organization.
Financial benefits alone include fewer legal fees and fines, reduced healthcare insurance costs, and a better ability to forecast operational expenses.
A well-managed compliance program, whether achieved by in-house or outside resources—or a combination of both—also bridges the gap between maintenance, engineering, and environmental health and safety. All teams are better equipped at mitigating business liabilities. Minimizing the burdens of occupational injuries or other disasters that generate negative public relations, in turn, helps create an improved image and culture over time. EP
Bryan Parkhurst, P.E., is an expert within Vertiv’s Electrical Reliability Services organization, Columbus, OH. He joined the company (formerly known as Emerson Network Power) in 2006 as a field engineer and has been the manager of its Kansas City Area Service Center for the past five years. For more information regarding electrical-safety compliance and support for your site’s efforts, visit vertivco.com.