Time Is Drawing to a Close to Comply with NFPA 70E for Commercial Buildings

Owners of commercial buildings and companies have been mandated to comply with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E requirement by 2015. NFPA 70E requires that all equipment be placed in an electrically safe work location prior to a worker working on or near the equipment. Arc flash, arc blast, shock hazard and electrocution risk are present only when electrical equipment is energized. It is the owner’s responsibility to warn of the hazard present when working on energized electrical equipment. This should be taken quite seriously given the potential dangers and expense of worker accidents.

Mandated compliance to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards or other federal and state regulators is by no means a new prospect for businesses. However, how and when an owner complies is highly variable. Completing all of the steps necessary to be in full compliance with NFPA 70E should take about five months on average. However, by all reports, there are many facilities out of compliance.

Reasons for delay can be simple. Perhaps there are budget constraints or the owner simply does not understand the mandate or is just not sure the best way to manage the process. In addition, it is human nature to put off anything until the last minute.

Noting how many companies are still non-compliant, I have identified six steps in the process and recommend expedient, cost-effective ways to complete the stages. As a business owner with my eye to efficiency and cost effectiveness, I understand fully the difficulties of taking time from routine business to divert attention to a process requiring complex technical considerations.

The six steps for compliance with NFPA 70E and OSHA regulations are:

    1. Have a complete written safety plan that directs activity appropriate for electrical hazards, voltage, energy level and circuit conditions.
    2. Perform an incident energy analysis, and apply labels to equipment that define the Arc Flash Boundary and identify the personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be used within the boundary.
    3. Provide an up-to-date facility electrical one-line diagram identifying sources of supply to specific electrical equipment.
    4. Train employees to understand the specific hazards and safety-related work practices.
    5. Purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and provide it for all employees working in the areas within the Arc Flash boundaries.
    6. Design overcurrent protective devises and perform maintenance on electrical equipment to reduce the risk of failure and exposure of employees to electrical hazards.

I recommend hiring an experienced full-service contractor to manage all steps of the process. For many of the same reasons you would hire a general contractor to build your home rather than act as your own project manager, hiring an electrical contracting company is the best way to go. Partnering with an electrical contractor who understands the hazards and safe work practices is the most reliable way to make sure your facility or job site meets the requirements. Working in the field, day in and out, means we live the challenges faced by facility maintenance personnel. That is why hiring a full service contractor is what many of our clients tell us is most comfortable for them.

There are many competent companies that can perform an Arc Flash Hazard Analysis. Will they make recommendations to reduce the hazard potential? Further, once a mitigation plan is in place, who will perform the installation or maintenance work? Then the original company that performed the analysis will have to return to verify that installation and upgrades have been completed correctly to reduce the hazard. Add in the importance of really knowing how to go through the compliance process, and you will see that the owners truly appreciate having the lives and protection of employees managed by one firm they can trust for critical protective expertise.

Additionally between these stages is a lag time that is extended if the owner must manage engineer and contractor during the initial study, mitigation recommendations, electrical work, and verification of work and updating the study. Even lengthier, another company must then come to train the workers for NFPA 70E compliance. An owner must research and select yet another firm to perform each task, coordinate between them and then wait for the company to find an opening in its schedule.

Using a full-service contractor is the most cost-effective choice, over trying to piece the elements together by oneself. This approach saves time and money, so these resources can be spent on other matters productive to the company. And in today’s marketplace, safety is one priority while working smarter and more economically is key.

About the Author

Emily Aschinger Martin
Emily Aschinger Martin is president of St. Louis-based, Aschinger Electric, a fourth-generation family business celebrating nearly 75 years of service. One of the largest electrical contractors in the region, Aschinger Electric is ranked fifth by the St. Louis Business Journal (based on total revenue, 2012), which also named Martin one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Business Women in 2014.

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