Recent updates to the NFPA 70E offer increased safety and protection for workers working on energized electrical conductors or circuit parts. One of the ways the new edition of the NFPA 70E seeks to improve safety is through its expanded requirements for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Essentially, anyone exposed to energized electrical circuit parts or conductors, including plant plant maintenance professionals, plant engineers, and electricians should be aware of the electrical safety risks—such as arc flash and shock hazards—within their facility, and understand how to protect themselves from these potentially deadly conditions.

Arc Flash Protection Boundary

The NFPA 70E is the go-to standard for offering best practices in electrical safety in the workplace. The 2009 edition of the NFPA 70E: Standards for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® contains clarifications, enhancements, and changes that may have critical implications for your electrical safety program. For now, let’s focus on the expanded requirements revolving around protective clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE). In a nutshell, all parts of the body inside the Arc Flash Protection Boundary must now be protected. Some of the most notable changes include:

  • Hazard/Risk Category 1 now requires an arc-rated face shield with a minimum arc rating of 4 cal/cm2 with wrap-around guarding to protect not only the face, but also the forehead, ears and neck (or, alternatively, an arc-rated arc flash suite hood), in addition to safety glasses or goggles.
  • The PPE requirements are designed to protect against exposure to the thermal effects of arc flash and shock hazards, and not the physical trauma that could result from the explosive nature of some arc events.
  • When the Hazard/Risk Category (HRC) Classification table is used in lieu of an incident energy analysis, the HRC 2* now has a provision that allows either an arc-rated arc flash suit hood or a face shield with a minimum arc rating of 8 cal/cm2 and balaclava (sock hood). This is a good alternative because sometimes the arc flash suit hood can increase the chances of an accident because of limited visibility and reduced oxygen flow to the body.
  • Wearing blue jeans no longer qualifies for HRC 1. Instead, pants and shirts must be arc-rated and flame-resistant with a minimum arc-rating of 4 cal/cm2.
  • Employees that are required to wear hair and/or beard nets must wear non-melting and flame-resistant hair or beard nets. 
  • Requirements for hand and arm protection has been expanded. Employees must wear rubber insulating gloves with leather protectors where there is a danger of hand injury due to contact with energized electrical conductors or circuit parts. The addition of rubber insulating sleeves is required if there is a danger of arm contact with energized components. The employer must verify that rubber insulating protective equipment is properly rated for the voltage for which they were intended for use.
  • Electrical protective equipment must be maintained in a safe, reliable condition and should be inspected before each day’s use and immediately following any incident that may have caused damage to the material. Employees must be trained to give an air test to all insulating gloves in addition to visual inspections. 
  • Hearing protection (ear canal inserts) are now required for all hazard/risk categories, levels 0 to 4.
  • The addition of a maintenance and storage requirement has been added, which requires flame-resistant clothing be stored in a manner that prevents physical damage; damage from moisture, dust, or any other deteriorating agents, including contamination by flammable or combustible materials. Cleaning and repairing must be per the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid the loss of protection. When repairs are necessary for flame-resistant clothing, they must be performed using the same flame-resistant material as originally supplied by the manufacturer.
  • Insulated tools and equipment must be inspected for damage prior to every use to decrease the potential of an incident occurring (e.g., damaged tip on a screwdriver).
  • The additional hazard that “Look-Alike Equipment” brings to the workplace is addressed. Many facilities have electrical rooms that are filled with equipment that is similar in size, shape, and construction which, if ignored, could be a potential hazard to workers. One or a combination of three methods must be used as a preventative measure against someone opening a door or removing a cover on energized electrical equipment. These are safety signs and tags, barricades, or attendants.

The 2009 Edition of NFPA 70E includes many important changes. Taking action to incorporate the enhancements regarding Personal Protective Equipment will go a long way to improving your plant’s electrical safety program—and more importantly—offering the best protection possible to your workers.