Why Every Electrical Contractor Needs NFPA 70E Training
Electricity is woven into every aspect of our lives. As consumers, we rely on it to power just about everything we do. As electrical contractors, we work directly with it on a daily basis, putting the connections in place for businesses and individuals to live and work faster and easier. We’ve worked with it so regularly and it’s been part of our lives for so long that it’s easy to forget just how powerful and dangerous electricity really is.
The Power of Electricity
What do you consider to be a ‘dangerous’ voltage – 25,000 volts, 1000 volts, 600 volts, 120 volts?
Actually, all these voltages can be dangerous. If you said 120 volts, you’d be in agreement with NFPA 70E trainer and safety consultant Bob Webber. “The most dangerous voltage on the face of the earth is 120 volts because no one thinks it can hurt them,” says Webber. Bob Webber’s job and ultimate goal is to help electrical contractors and companies understand how to work safely with electricity, so the dangers inherent to electrical work are always top of mind for him.
According to OSHA, approximately 350 people die from electrical-related incidents each year. Its website reports that out of 4,188 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2011, 17.6% were in construction and that the leading causes of worker deaths on sites were falls followed by electrocution.
“Everyday electricity is so powerful,” says Bob. “Electrons travel at 186,000 miles per second. That’s a lot of electrons in a small amount of time. That force and heat can melt metal instantaneously, create toxic gas and vapors, blind people, and even crush bones. Even 50 volts can translate into a lot of pain in a short amount of time.” Although the dangers of working with electricity are often overlooked, they are real and present and therefore require electrical workers to be vigilant in knowing, understanding and following established safety standards on every job.
Miller Electric’s Safety Focus - Adherence to NFPA 70E Guidelines
At Miller Electric, we’ve built a reputation for working safely. We care about our employees and our clients’ staff and don’t want to see anyone get hurt from preventable electrical injuries. That said, the difference between saying you care about safety and actually caring about safety is vast. We make sure every Miller employee knows, understands and adheres to NFPA 70E safety guidelines. But we don’t stop there. We do what we can to educate our clients about NFPA 70E guidelines as well.
NFPA 70E came into being in the late 1970s, around the same time that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted portions of the National Electric Code into its requirements. In 1976, OSHA asked the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to create industry standards for working with electricity. The resultant document was NFPA 70E. It clearly defines the responsibilities and accountabilities for electrical contractors, employers, employees and equipment owners. While that document is not a code, its standards are written to be adopted into law by governmental organizations and OSHA itself relies on NFPA 70E to determine whether or not contractors and companies are properly protecting its workers from electrical injuries and accidents.
It’s Only a Matter of Time until NFPA 70E Becomes Law
While NFPA 70E is itself not a legal code, many in our industry believe it’s only a matter of time until it becomes law. “The industry is moving that way,” says Miller Electric Safety Director Scott Love. “If you aren’t thinking about it, you are already behind in the big picture.”
OSHA says you must maintain a safe workplace, but not how to do it. NFPA 70E gives contractors the guidelines we need to keep electrical workers safe. “The ultimate goal is safety,” says Scott. “Anyone with a thorough knowledge of NFPA 70E guidelines could approach safety with a different process and end up exceeding some of the standards laid out in NFPA 70E. No one is going to be punished for going overboard on safety. The real problem is when you aren’t becoming aware of and continually updating your knowledge of established safety guidelines, because that’s when people and businesses suffer.”
Arc Flashes Illustrate the Need for Continual Education
The evolving safety guidelines surrounding arc flashes are a good example of why it is important for contractors to stay current on NFPA 70E guidelines. “For a long time there was no measurement of arc flash in terms of how to protect someone,” says safety consultant Bob Webber. “As a result, the only thing you could do was de-energize, lock and tag a system. In the late 1980s NFPA began to update their guidelines around arc flashes. Now, equipment must be labeled with warnings that include minimum approach and safe workplace distances. The closer workers get, the higher the risk elevates but the danger is always present. For that reason, arc flash analysis is a good idea for companies and contractors.”
Miller Electric’s Proactive Department has employees who are trained to safely conduct arc flash studies and install arc flash labels for companies. “We know whether or not the work can be performed de-energized and our guys wear appropriate PPE until the process is done and the equipment is put away. Even when that work only requires removing the panel door, looking around and replacing it,” says Jeremy Overman, Electrical Risk Consultant for Miller Electric. “While many companies claim to work safely, Miller Electric actually does.”
First Steps for Contractors
The best way for any electrical contractor to move into compliance with NFPA 70E guidelines is to establish the mindset that safety is serious. “Knowing, understanding and following NFPA 70E guidelines isn’t about just avoiding fines,” says Bob Webber. “It’s about protecting electrical workers so they can live well, provide for their families and avoid unnecessary injuries. Yes, it takes time and money but getting the training you need is an investment in the health and wellbeing of your employees and your business. Miller Electric is leading the way in this regard by taking steps to educate their clients about NFPA 70E safety guidelines.”
We know of many companies and contractors who are approaching electrical safety the right way. “They’re sending their people to NFPA 70E training sessions and implementing what they learn,” says Scott Love. “Miller Electric is again facilitating NFPA 70E training sessions for interested clients because we really do care about keeping people safe.”
Miller Electric offers training for clients and contractors tailored to maintenance and electrical workers, middle management and even executives. “We’ll be offering everything from full NFPA 70E training classes to short trainings for executives and lunch and learns for employees,” says Miller Electric Safety Director Scott Love. “Bob Webber offers in-depth NFPA 70E training and electrical exam prep as well and may be partnering with Miller Electric on a few upcoming safety training courses.”
Find Bob Webber online at www.continuingelectricaleducation.biz.
Contact Miller Electric today about opportunities to participate in one of our upcoming safety training courses.