The Occupational Safety and Health Administration distributed over 3,600 citations for improper electrical wiring and violations of general electrical safety codes last year in 2016. Unfortunately, these professional missteps carry serious consequences for workers in trades tasked with navigating electrical fixtures. More than 170 workers died from exposure to electricity in 2015, according to data from the Department of Labor.
The National Fire Protection Association set out to address these challenges with the 2017 National Electrical Code, released earlier this year. The 70th edition of the document contains new amendments designed to bolster electrical safety practices and precipitate a substantial decrease in electricity-related workplace injuries and fatalities. The NFPA developed much of this guidance during its annual meeting in Las Vegas last June.
New requirements for residential construction, equipment
NEC 2017 contains a number of key amendments that address worker safety. A first, which goes into effect in 2020, requires home builders to install external electrical shutoff switches that first responders can access in an emergency. This rule applies to one- and two-family homes. Safety advocacy groups had long lobbied the organization to formalize such a rule, as fire safety personnel were forced to call utility providers to turn off systems externally, which increased response and crisis mitigation times. Now, thanks to NEC 2017, emergency teams will be able to perform this task themselves.
A second amendment pertains to equipment labeling. Previous versions of the NEC mandated that key electrical fixtures such as industrial control panels and switch board feature arc flash warning labels, according to the International Association of Electrical Inspectors. The latest edition of the NEC expands this ruling, requiring contractors to affix labels indicating nominal voltage and incident energy information. This change puts the document in line with the NFPA’s own safety code, 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
“The new requirements will help us implement the safe work practices that 70E calls for – if we have a safe initial installation, it will help facilitate safe work practices,” Jeff Sargent, a regional code specialist for the organization, told the NFPA Journal. “That’s how the two documents work together.”
Another major change to the NEC addresses an often unrecognized variable that electricians must take into account when doing their work: spacing. This amendment establishes minimum front and side clearance measures for key electrical fixtures. While seemingly insignificant, the change greatly bolsters worksite safety, as electricians will no longer have to navigate tight spaces while performing dangerous work.
Other article changes cover the following:
Branch Circuit, Feeder and Services
Enclosures and Boxes
Overcurrent Protection and Grounding & Bonding
A New Process and Five New Articles
New safety codes for a dangerous occupation
According to the DOL, fatality rates for electricians increased dramatically in 2015, likely due to changing construction and technological trends. However, the latest version of the NEC shows that organizations such as the NFPA are attempting meaningfully address this trend and bolster electrical safety programs at worksites across the country.