NFPA 70E - Implications for Electric Utility Operations

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E standard is a voluntary consensus standard that is geared towards establishing protection for electrical workers. However, the intended audience of this standard is workers in industrial plants, manufacturing plants and other similar work environments where these workers both install and maintain high voltage electrical systems. The hazard analyses, personal protective equipment recommendations and the hazard labeling requirements outlined in this voluntary consensus standard are well suited for the industrial and manufacturing plant environments. In these industrial and manufacturing plant environments, many of the electrical work tasks are short duration and the electrical systems in these facilities are geared towards supplying power to these facilities operations.

If proper safe work practices are not employed when working on these systems, workers can be seriously or fatally injured due to the inherent dangers of working around high voltage electricity.

The electric utility industry also works with high voltages and systems. However this industry has a separate OSHA standard that addresses safe work practices and methods. Additionally, this industry generates and distributes power to its end users. Paradoxically, the electric utility industry has greater electrical hazards than what are commonly found in the industrial plant environment. However, NFPA 70E provides an excellent framework for addressing protection for electrical workers who are exposed to electrical hazards.

NFPA 70E does not presently apply to the electric utility industry since it is a voluntary consensus standard. Although OSHA officials have hinted the NFPA 70E will be incorporated and/or referenced in part in the upcoming Subpart S revision of CFR 1910, this still will not directly apply to the electric utility industry.

Since its adoption in 2000, NFPA 70E has become quickly become the benchmark of determining protection for electrical workers in a number of settings. However adapting this best practice standard to the electric utility industry is difficult and challenging for the following reasons:

  • The electric utility industry is engaged in power production. The systems in the power plants are considerably more complex than the systems in industrial and manufacturing plants. However similarities exist in the power control operations.

  • Many of the electric utility electrical work tasks are long duration. This poses a problem based upon the use of the recommend personal protection equipment. Much of the recommended personal protection equipment (depending upon the hazard category) is somewhat cumbersome and restrictive. This is fine for short duration tasks - but for long duration tasks, this poses a potential greater hazard.

  • For transmission and distribution operations, which are predominately outdoor electrical work tasks, these tasks are also long duration and involve working at heights. This poses a challenge for many of the recommended work practices and personal protective equipment requirements outlined in NFPA 70E.

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