Improving Electrical Safety in Non-Residential Buildings: An Overview of NFPA 70E Updates

Improving Electrical Safety in Non-Residential Buildings: An Overview of NFPA 70E Updates

Electrical hazards pose significant risks in non-residential buildings. As an electrical engineer, I stay up-to-date on the latest codes and standards to ensure we design and maintain electrical systems safely. The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 70E standard outlines best practices for electrical safety, and I want to provide an overview of key updates and how they will improve electrical safety.

Background on NFPA 70E

The NFPA first published the 70E standard in 1979 to establish workplace electrical safety requirements. Regular revisions help adjust to new technologies and work practices. The most recent edition, 70E-2021, contains key updates to reduce electrical hazards and injuries.

NFPA 70E works alongside the National Electrical Code (NEC) published as NFPA 70. While the NEC focuses on installation, 70E covers maintenance, operation, and work practices. It outlines a framework to identify risks and establish policies and procedures to protect personnel. Compliance is voluntary but strongly recommended.

Major Changes in the 2021 Edition

The latest edition contains over 35 changes, but I want to highlight updates I feel will most improve electrical safety programs:

Emphasis on Safety Culture

There is greater focus on cultivating a safety culture centered around electrical work. New requirements call for more oversight and accountability from leadership. For example, 70E-2021 requires an Electrical Safety Program Administrator role. This person will manage electrical safety programs and advise on associated risks.

Arc Flash Risk Assessments

Previous 70E editions recommended, but did not mandate arc flash risk assessments. For better hazard identification, 70E-2021 now requires detailed arc flash analyses for equipment operating at or above 240V. This will improve risk understanding and help determine appropriate protective measures.

Greater Attention to DC Systems

With expanding use of DC systems in data centers and from solar panels, 70E-2021 strengthens DC arc flash safety requirements. New DC equipment labelling rules improve hazard communication. Updated PPE standards account for DC system dangers like sustained arc events.

Reduced PPE Mandates

While more hazard analysis is needed, some mandatory PPE rules have been removed. For example, hard hats are now not always required when working on panels with arc flash PPE and no overhead hazard exists. This gives added flexibility, but personnel must be properly trained.

Implementing Updates

Integrating these updates at my company will require:

The costs and efforts to make these changes seem justified by the improved understanding and prevention of electrical hazards. But I would like to get input from our safety committee before moving forward.

Looking Ahead

I'm optimistic about how adopting 70E-2021 will further shape our safety culture around electrical work. But I know that staying compliant requires ongoing diligence. I look forward to reviewing the next edition of 70E once published and determining appropriate updates. Regularly evaluating our programs against the latest standards will help provide optimal protection for our employees.