This is a discussion about Arc Flash and NFPA 70E for decision makers. It is designed to clear up some of the confusion about what Arc Flash is, what NFPA 70E is, and why complying with NFPA 70E is important.
Firstly, what is an Arc Flash? An Arc Flash is an explosive release of energy caused by an electrical arc due to either a phase to ground or phase-to-phase fault. This fault can be caused by many different things, including: accidental contact with electrical systems, build up of conductive dust, corrosion, dropped tools, and improper work procedures.
The OSHA General Duty Clause states that each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees (OSHA 1970). Furthermore, a review of OSHA 29CFR 1910.335 (a) (1)(i) which requires the use of protective equipment when working where a potential electrical hazard exists and 29CFR 1910.132(d)(1) which requires the employer assess the workplace for hazards and the need for personal protective equipment, are given to show the importance of NFPA 70E (OSHA 1990) (OSHA 1994).
On January 7, 1976, at OSHA's request, the NFPA created a committee to write an electrical standard that OSHA could use: Committee on Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces – NFPA 70E.
In a 2004 interview with IEEE's Industry Applications Magazine, David Wallis, OSHA Director, stated, "It certainly seems to me that if I'm an employer, and I want to comply with a general requirement for protecting my employees from electric shock and electric arc, that the first place I'm going to look is NFPA70E ("An Interview" 8)."
NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace covers the full range of electrical safety issues from safety-related work practices to maintenance, special equipment requirements, and installation. OSHA 1910 Subpart S and OSHA 1926 Subpart K are based on this standard. NFPA 70E is a "how to comply" standard for OSHA electrical regulations. In addition, NFPA 70E is the standard that assists with conducting an Arc Flash Risk Assessment to determine if an arc flash exists, and, if it does, what appropriate PPE protection should be worn. Can you be cited for not complying with NFPA 70E? Yes!