Understanding NFPA 70E

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Understanding NFPA 70E

Grainger Editorial Staff

The purpose of this standard is to provide a practical safe working area for employees relative to the hazards arising from the use of electricity.

Keeping workers safe is an ongoing imperative for all companies, but for employees who are working with electrical components in or around “energized” environments, the need for standards, rules, and safety-related products that protect their health and their lives is especially critical.

To ensure the safest electrical environments possible, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes—and continually updates—NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Originally developed at OSHA’s request, this standard addresses electrical safety-related work practices, safety-related maintenance requirements, and other administrative controls for employee workplaces that are necessary for the pratical safeguarding of employees relative to the hazards associated with electrical energy.

What is NPFA 70E?

According to OSHA’s electrical safety standards (found in the 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1910 Subpart S and 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart K), employers must use safety-related work practices to prevent electrical shock or other injuries resulting from either direct or indirect electrical contact. NFPA 70E is the tool that companies use to meet this OSHA requirement.

A voluntary national consensus safety standard published by NFPA primarily to assist OSHA in preparing its electrical safety standards, NFPA 70E was initially published in 1979 and contained installation safety requirements borrowed from the National Electric Code (NEC). New elements have been added to the standard over the years, with arc flash personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements becoming a prominent focus for NFPA throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The two most recent editions incorporated a major shift in how to evaluate electrical risk and the likelihood of an arc flash occurrence.

According to NFPA, an arc flash hazard is a “source of possible injury or damage to health associated with the release of energy caused by an electric arc.” The likelihood of such occurrences increases when energized electrical conductors or circuit parts are exposed. NFPA 70E states that an arc flash incident is not likely to occur under normal operating conditions when enclosed energized equipment has been properly installed and maintained.

Going Home Safe at the End of the Day

At its core, NFPA 70E offers practical, accomplishable electrical safety that results in the employee going home safe at the end of the day. “The risk controls discussed in this standard are not impractical or unrealistic,” according to NFPA. “They are sound, viable, workable applications of safety procedures and policies to be implemented by the employer and employee.”

For example, OSHA mandates that all services to electrical equipment be done in a de-energized state, and that “working live” can only happen during certain situations. NFPA 70E requires that preventive and protective risk control methods be implemented in accordance with the following hierarchy of risk control methods:

  1. Elimination
  2. Substitution
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Awareness
  5. Administrative controls
  6. PPE

The shock and arc flash risk assessment section of NFPA 70E outlines the process for identifying the hazards; estimating the likelihood of the occurrence and potential severity of injury or damage to health; and determining whether additional protective measures are required, including the use of PPE.

Safety is a Collaborative Effort

The most recent version (2018) of NFPA 70E states that employers must conduct risk assessments before any work is started, and that the assessment must:

  • Address employee exposure to electrical hazards, and
  • Identify the process to be used by the employee before work is started to carry out the following:
    • Identify hazards,
    • Assess risks,
    • Implement risk control according to the hierarchy of risk control methods, and
  • Address the potential for human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, the work environment, and equipment.

“Electrical safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Compliance with safety regulations is not just an employer responsibility — the electrical safety of employees requires a collaborative effort between workers and management,” NPFA states, noting that NFPA 70E is not just about the actions an employer took before the incident investigation — it is about preventing the worker from being injured. “Regardless of the employer’s electrical safety plan, it is the employee who has the biggest impact on his or her own electrical safety.”

Now that you know what NFPA is and the role that it plays in today’s workplace, click here to learn about the PPE category method and incident energy/flash boundary assessments to identify and mitigate arc flash risks.


FACT SHEET » NFPA 70E®, 2018 Edition

NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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