WHAT IS NFPA 70E?
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) created NFPA 70E, a Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The NFPA has served as an authority in the U.S. on fire, electricity and building safety since 1896. The purpose of the standard is to provide a "practical safeguarding of employees during activities such as the installation, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electric conductors, electric equipment, signaling and communications conductors". The goal of NFPA 70E is to protect electrical workers around any device capable of generating arc flash, and provides recommended safety practices for industries involved in the installation, repair and maintenance of electrical systems. NFPA 70E is a voluntary consensus standard, not a law. However, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes NFPA 70E as a generally accepted industry practice and has referenced it in citations.
In 2000, the NFPA 70E Standard first addressed electric arc flash hazard and required flame resistant arc flash clothing to protect workers. The current edition of the NFPA 70E standard was released in 2012, and further details personal protective equipment.
Who NFPA 70E covers
NFPA 70E was developed to protect electrical workers in all industries who work on or near energized parts or equipment that are capable of generating an arc flash. Such equipment would include high-voltage switching and grounding gear, panel boards, switchboards, motor control centers, motor starters, metal clad switchgear, transformers, and meters. Common occupations covered under NFPA 70E include electrical maintenance workers, industrial electricians, and machine operators.
What NFPA 70E requires
Flame resistant clothing is addressed in Chapter 1 of the standard, Safety-Related Work Practices. NFPA 70E requires employers to conduct an arc flash hazard analysis to identify a worker's potential exposure to arc-flash energy. The results of the analysis are then used to determining safe work practices, arc flash protection boundaries, and the appropriate level of personal protective equipment.
The standard states that all equipment must be de-energized before being worked on unless the employer can demonstrate that de-energizing introduces additional or increased hazards or is infeasible due to equipment design or operational limitations. If de-energizing the equipment is not feasible, the employer must establish a "flash protection boundary" which is the minimum distance from an arc source where a person could receive a second-degree burn if an arc flash occurred. When it is determined that an employee must perform electrical work within the flash protection boundary, he or she shall wear protective clothing and all parts of the body within the arc flash protection boundary must be protected.
NFPA 70E requires the use of one of two methods for determining the appropriate level of flame-resistant clothing:
- Incident Energy Analysis - The employer must determine the potential incident energy exposure of the worker in cal/cm ². Based on this analysis, the worker must wear arc-rated flame-resistant clothing with an Arc Thermal Performance Value (ATPV - measured in cal/cm ²), or EBT greater than the potential exposure level.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Categories () - To simplify the process, NFPA 70E has developed a table of common electrical job tasks and determined a PPE category for each task. The table above, adapted from NFPA 70E-2015 (Table 130.7(C)(16)), lists the four PPE categories, corresponding required minimum arc rating of flame-resistant clothing and the Carhartt PPE category color codes.
The NFPA 70E Standard details multiple levels of Hazard Risk Categories (HRC) [see table 1.1], also called "Levels". The greater the risk: the higher the HRC. Arc Rating is the factor that indicates which HRC is necessary, and can be measured in either ATPV or EBT. Arc Rating is the incident energy on a fabric that results in sufficient heat transfer through the fabric to cause the onset of a second-degree burn. EBT is reported when ATPV cannot be measured due to FR fabric breakopen. A hazard risk assessment should be performed by a qualified hazard risk assessor to determine the risk level, and thus, the necessary level of compliance to the 70E standard. The 70E standard provides additional details on assessing your hazard risk for job tasks. Once the Hazard Risk Category has been determined, the necessary protective clothing can be purchased.
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