AUTHOR: Derek Vigstol

Electrical safety audit

Year End Wrap Up: Performing an Electrical Safety Program Audit to Help Protect Employees in the New Year

As we enter this time of year where reflection seems to be on everyone’s mind, it seems fitting to take a look at what that might mean for electrical safety. After all, many of us work in a field where electrical hazards often present a very real danger that we might not make another family Thanksgiving dinner or another company holiday party. However, someone had our best interests in mind when they put together a plan aimed at making sure that we not only make it to the next big family get together, but that we make it home at the end of every day. And that certainly is something to be thankful for this time of year. However, does that electrical safety program continue to protect employees year after year without any checks and balances by the authors? NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® actually requires that an electrical safety program get audited and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the program is still in alignment with applicable safety requirements. It is this auditing that helps a company continuously improve their electrical safety program. By reviewing the year in safety, we can see where additional safety measures need to be implemented and reinforce the existing measures that have served us well. So, what exactly are the auditing requirements that can be found in NFPA 70E? Well, for starters we can find the requirements for auditing the electrical safety program in section 110.5(M). This section requires that an electrical safety program that is based on NFPA 70E be reviewed to ensure that it is still in alignment with requirements found in the standard. This auditing is something that must take place at intervals not to exceed three years. This corresponds to the revision cycle timeframe of NFPA 70E and as requirements change within the document, we need to be making the corresponding changes to our electrical safety program. Next, field work audits are also required to be performed to verify that the procedures within the electrical safety program are being followed in practices in the field. Field audits are something that must be performed on a yearly basis. If these audits find that either the procedures are inadequate to protect employees or that employees are simply not following them, then steps must be taken by the employer to adjust the program policies and procedures in a way that will lead to better procedures and more buy-in from the workers. Keep in mind that just about anything that affects or has to do with electrical safety in the workplace is also going to be required to be documented. Consulting documentation about incident investigations and near-misses can markedly improve an employer’s ability to assess whether the electrical safety program is successfully providing for the safe work environment employers must provide their employees. Another required audit that must be performed is on the employer’s lockout/tagout (LOTO) program. This audit must also take place on a yearly basis and has certain aspects that it must cover. The LOTO program audit must identify and correct any deficiencies found in the program and procedures. The audit must also look at the LOTO training program to verify that the training is adequate to train employees on the proper methods for controlling hazardous energy. One way this becomes obvious is when the audit is performed on the worker execution of a procedure. Therefore, the LOTO program audit must be performed to cover at least one lockout/tagout procedure in progress. After all what better way to see if the workers have been trained on proper procedures and the training is effective than to observe the way that they apply the requirements? Keep in mind that all efforts made by an employer to audit all of these programs is going to need to be documented. This is important as it aids in the employer’s ability to track the effectiveness and improvement of the program over time. Also, should the need arise to show proof that the program is being audited regularly, then those records will be available. In addition to auditing the procedures within an electrical safety program, we also want to make sure that we are auditing other critical safety measures that are required to be maintained and accurate. Some examples of this are equipment labeling required by NFPA 70E. As the owner of the electrical equipment containing such a label, a facility must make sure that any labels that state information such as available fault current or incident energy level be verified to still be accurate. If these labels are found to be inaccurate, or if the system changes in a manner that renders them inaccurate, they must be updated. This information about labels must be reviewed at least every five years to ensure they are still applicable. However, keep in mind that if nothing has changed that would warrant the need for new labels, existing labels that followed previous editions of NFPA 70E are not required to be changed or updated until they are found to be inaccurate. Electrical safety is a fluid process. It seems like every time we feel as though we have it all figured out, something pops up that teaches us just how much we have yet to learn. By reflecting on what went well and what maybe didn’t go so well, we can look back on the year and identify the learning opportunities and reinforce our strong suits. And as we look back on the year that has been 2020, even though I think we would all rather not, hopefully the bright shining star we see in our rear-view mirror is that we all had a safe and productive year in safety. Even with a year marked with successful job outcomes, there will always be some hiccups, as we know. But by learning from our mistakes we can use these lessons to prepare for the following year ahead. Now’s the time to get our safety plans into good shape and step into 2021 with safe work practices that work. It’s a big world; let’s protect it, ourselves, and each other and make the new year a successful one for all. Learn more about NFPA 70E and find related resources by visiting the NFPA 70E electrical solutions webpage.
House with holiday lights

Three Considerations for Electrical Professionals to Help Educate Consumers about Outdoor Decorative Holiday Lighting Safety

Normally, I would not be so excited to acknowledge the fact that the year is coming to a close. But this year is not a normal year. I think I speak for all of us when I say I am glad to be closing out all these months of craziness. With that being said, the end of the year can only mean one thing, it’s the holiday season. I can’t think of a better way to take my mind off what’s happening than to spend time celebrating the things we can be thankful for. There’s nothing like friends and family to put all of this into perspective and remind myself about how blessed I really am, even if the gatherings are taking place via video conferencing platforms. However, there are a few things to keep in mind during this season of celebration to ensure that it runs smoothly. One of the often-overlooked areas that present possible fire, life safety, and electrical hazards is decorative holiday lighting. It never fails that every year we hear about fires or injuries caused by misused or misapplied lighting. And it stands to reason that this is because consumers and users of temporary decorative lighting products are under informed of the dangers these products present. The good news is that the world has professionals like all of us to spread the word about properly using strands of temporary lighting. The NEC is a good place to start regarding what is required for these systems. One of the major points is the time frame in which we use this equipment. The NEC restricts these decorative holiday lighting displays to 90 days. And for good reason. Often this lighting is installed outdoors, on bushes, and on trees and is exposed to the elements and many factors that can lead to damage or deterioration of the insulation on the conductors. This presents many shock and fire scenarios that can simply be avoided if the lighting displays are limited in how long they are up. So it is very important that this rule gets followed. However, safety related codes and standards like the NEC only work when they are followed and often, they are only followed if they are enforced. So, how are we to feel safe knowing that each year millions of people put these light displays up and have no idea what the requirements are or even that there are requirements? Does the average homeowner know that these lighting strands need to be listed and labeled? Do they know the time constraints? How about the special conditions they must follow if they put lights in vegetation? The fact is, they don’t know about them and there is nobody to enforce these rules most of the time. And to be clear, I am not advocating that local jurisdictions add these types of installations to their list of inspectable installations, but I am advocating for us as electrical professionals to help educate the public on why these rules are so important. Just like the mechanic that helps walk you through how your car works, we as electrical professionals need to educate our customers on how the rules apply and why it is important for them to follow the rules. Often the public knows little more than how to turn the switch on, the light comes on, and that’s it. By helping them understand how to safeguard their installations from the dangers that electricity presents, we ultimately help make the world a safer place. It’s a big world, let’s protect it together! Find tips, information, and free downloadable resources to share with homeowners by visiting NFPA’s winter holiday safety webpage. 
Reconditioned equipment

Three Key Questions Facility Managers Need to Address to Help Assess Whether Electrical Equipment Should be Reconditioned or Replaced

Electrical equipment has been a staple of U.S. manufacturing since the early days of the industrial revolution. Along with the early adoption of electric light and power in America came the early adoption of fixing broken equipment. We have all heard the quote that the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes, right? Well, that quote might have been made a little too early in our country’s history. I think we can agree that a third guarantee is that inevitably, electrical equipment will break down at some point. Whether we are talking about a motor with lots of moving parts or a busway that just carries electrons from point A to point B, electrical equipment eventually wears out. So, what do we do when this truth eventually comes to pass? Well, we can certainly tear out the old equipment, bring in the latest and greatest shiny new contraption that engineers have built and be back up and running in a jiffy, with all new state of the art electrical equipment that has us meeting production once again. New replacement is certainly an option to consider but the first question to ask ourselves is, is it the best option? I can’t answer that with certainty, but I do know I follow up the question with, “Is new equipment the only option?” The answer I hear is most often a resounding “No!” One option that has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately is the option to have broken or worn equipment sent out to an outfit that specializes in restoring equipment to its original “new” condition. This option is what has been referred to as “reconditioned equipment.” Now, I put the word “new” in quotation marks because it isn’t actually a new piece of equipment. Here is the definition from Article 100 of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®) that helps us understand what “reconditioned” really means: Electromechanical systems, equipment, apparatus, or components that are restored to operating conditions. This process differs from normal servicing of equipment that remains within a facility, or replacement of listed equipment on a one-to-one basis. (CMP-10) Informational Note: The term reconditioned is frequently referred to as rebuilt, refurbished, or remanufactured. So, the concept is, the equipment, which has either become non-operational or is about to break down, is sent off to a vendor who will go through it and essentially bring everything back to as close to original as possible. This is a different process that another option, which would be to contract a company to come into your facility and find out why the equipment no longer works, what parts are broken or worn, replace those parts, and turn it back on. That option would be more of a normal servicing of the equipment that fixes it in place. The second question we need to ask is, “When would a facility choose reconditioned equipment as the answer?” In true NEC fashion, the answer is, it depends! There are a lot of variables that go into deciding if reconditioned equipment is the best route to go or even if it is permitted to be installed. A facility might choose to install reconditioned equipment for a multitude of reasons, such as: the existing equipment is no longer available as new the existing equipment is a part of the aesthetics of the building the reconditioned option is more cost effective to the project These are just a few examples of why someone might choose reconditioned equipment. There are certainly many, many more reasons out there to pick from should you ever find yourself in that position. The third question a facility must ask is, does the NEC permit a reconditioned version of whatever your broken equipment is to be installed? This was the focus of much of the discussion around the 2020 NEC revision cycle. In fact, I had a chance recently talk to a great friend and CMP-6 member, Christel Hunter, who was on the front lines of the reconditioned discussions, about what the revisions to the 2020 NEC mean to the electrical world, and the revisions centered around what can and cannot be installed as reconditioned equipment. Watch the video on our NEC Facebook page.      For facilities, this helps provide some insight to what types of equipment will be allowed for installation, which then helps them decide whether to replace what they have with new equipment, used equipment, reconditioned equipment, or some other option. The last thing to take into consideration here is the understanding that we are no longer dealing with a new piece of equipment once it has been reconditioned. Because it is no longer new, the NEC is going to require that a label or marking is affixed to the equipment that identifies the outfit that performed the reconditioning, and if the original equipment carried the mark of a third-party listing agency, that mark must be removed. This then opens the discussion around whether a field evaluation is now required. In many cases, the AHJ is going to require that if the original equipment was required to be listed, the reconditioned equipment be evaluated as well. This also points to the importance of using credible reconditioning companies. The field evaluation body is also going to want to know that the equipment was rebuilt by a company with the qualification to do such work. It is inevitable that legacy equipment will fail at some point and the owner of this equipment might be faced with an issue where they can no longer procure parts to fix the problem. It is important that these facility owners fully understand the ins and outs of what is required for safety when it comes to utilizing reconditioned equipment. The safety of their employees, business, and bottom line might just depend on it. The good news here is that there are many resources out there to help in this process. In addition to NFPA, organizations such as UL and the Professional Electrical Apparatus Reconditioning League (PEARL) have resources at the ready to help guide this decision-making process. To follow this evolving conversation, subscribe to our newsletter and select the “electrical” topic as an area of interest. You’ll get all the latest NFPA news related to electrical safety, which in turn will help you stay connected to safety. After all, it’s a big world, let’s protect it together!

Thanksgiving and its Impact on the NEC and the Safety of Today’s Kitchen Electrical Systems

The leaves are falling, there is a nip in the air, and for us folks up north, we’ve even had snow on the ground already. All of these things can mean only one thing, summer has packed her bags and left the building! However, as sad as I might be that my days of soaking up the sun and hanging out at the beach have come to an end, we are now blessed with my personal favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving! As we begin preparing our menus and our meals for the big event, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about kitchens. Did you know that food events such as Thanksgiving significantly transformed the electrical systems in today’s kitchens? Yes! And to understand this relationship more fully, we first need to understand the purpose of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC), which is stated very clearly in section 90.1(A):  the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity. In other words, the NEC aims to install an electrical system in a building that is going to minimize that system’s potential to harm the building or the people in the building. Commercial/Industrial Properties and Dwellings Still wondering what that has to do with turkey, stuffing, and cranberries? Well, the NEC approaches receptacle outlet placement two different ways. First, in commercial or industrial type properties, it is generally known what will get plugged in and its placement. So, the NEC doesn’t see the need in those occupancies to specify where receptacle outlets must be placed. Sometimes however, it’s not clear what equipment will need connections or where that will/should be. Dwellings (such as homes) tend to fall into this second category. It means that if there isn’t a spot to plug in a given piece of equipment, an extension cord is most often used to bring the power to where it needs to be. This has led the code making panels (CMP) over the years to tackle dwelling unit systems with more of a proactive approach. Simply put, receptacle outlets are now placed throughout the space such that the typical equipment used in that area is never out of reach of an outlet. This helps minimize the use of extension cords and reduces the risk of fire hazards due to these cords being used constantly as though they are a part of the permanent wiring system of the home. Today’s Modern Kitchen and Receptacle Placement That brings us back to the kitchen. Having sat in on discussions taking place at CMP meetings about where to place receptacle outlets in kitchens, I have the pleasure to report that these panels have absolutely considered just about every conceivable kitchen configuration possible. And in this consideration, they have also considered just about every possible use scenario as well. This is where we tie Thanksgiving to receptacle outlet placement in the NEC. When it comes to family gatherings, or at least my family’s gatherings, if there is open counter space, it’s probably going to get taken up by a slow cooker or other small kitchen appliance like warming trays and coffee percolators. Based on discussions at the code meetings, it seems everyone around the tables have had the same experience. So, CMP-2 has done their best to consider as many kitchen layouts as possible, and as many kitchen use scenarios as possible to ensure that no matter who buys the house and how they use the kitchen, they’ll be covered. This translates to a few different requirements in the NEC that we should be aware of. Wall Space Behind Kitchen Countertops First, let’s take a look at receptacle outlets along the wall space behind the kitchen countertops. Any countertop space that is 12 inches in width or more is most likely the place where Aunt Edna’s famous green bean casserole will go and therefore it needs at least one receptacle outlet. From there, the requirement is that no space along the countertop wall line should be more than two feet from a receptacle outlet. Anyone want to take a guess at the standard length of a kitchen small appliance cord? You guessed it, two feet! So, this is what has become known as the “2 & 4-foot” rule. Place the first receptacle outlet within the first two feet of countertop and then every four feet after that, making sure that there is one within the last two feet of countertop. That way, an appliance should never be sitting out of reach of a receptacle outlet. While this rule is great for countertops with walls behind them, what about peninsulas and islands? Well, the last few cycles have had discussions around these types of installations, as well, because what was once a kitchen feature that was rather rare, now has become a rather popular design tool in today’s age of open concepts and feng shui. Island Countertops and Peninsula Space In order to ensure that your island countertop or peninsula have enough receptacle outlets, they took the approach of basing the number of required outlets on how large the island or peninsula countertop space is. The requirement is to install one receptacle outlet for the first nine square feet and then one for each additional 18 square feet or fraction thereof. This means that the bigger the island or peninsula, the more receptacle outlets you are going to need. However, with the exception of one within the last two feet of a peninsula, the placement of these receptacles is up to the owner or designer. For an example, let’s say we build a kitchen where the only countertop space happens to be an island. The dimensions measure 24 feet long by 30 inches wide. We know we need one receptacle for the first nine square feet, but how many do we need after that? In total, this island is 60 square feet. This means after the first nine square feet, we still have 51 square feet to account for. Dividing 51 square feet by 18 square feet gives us 2.83, which means we need a total of three additional receptacles for a total of four receptacle outlets for this island. Previous editions of the NEC only required a single receptacle outlet to serve this island, which just wouldn’t be enough to fulfill the demand for today’s large family holiday events like Thanksgiving or Christmas. So, the next time you find yourself at a holiday event, look around to see if there are enough outlets in your kitchen to serve demand, while still in alignment with the purpose of the NEC. If there are, you can give thanks to the members of Code Making Panel 2 who spent considerable time discussing how families will use their countertops and applying the needed, related code requirements to help keep everyone safe from electrical hazards. For more information about this topic, check out one of our recent blog posts that highlights three key changes in the 2020 NEC that helps make kitchens safer. Tips and resources about cooking fire safety can be found on NFPA’s Thanksgiving and holiday safety webpage.

New Electrical Training Courses Offer Unique Interactive Learning Opportunity in a Virtual Environment

Skilled professionals need continuing education, whether they are on the front lines or at home during this current coronavirus pandemic, especially as many states are shifting to the new edition of the NEC. This need for quality training and the renewal of licenses and professional credentials are vital to our jobs now and long after this crisis has lifted.   With social distancing measures in place, NFPA and many other organizations are developing alternatives to help meet our growing training needs. And we're starting to see results. Today's online and distance learning landscape has taken on a new look and feel including the capability to incorporate hands-on learning techniques applied within a virtual environment.   That's why I am really happy to announce that NFPA has just launched two new Live Virtual Training courses that focus on the recent editions of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code® (NEC) and NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®.  The live expert-led courses allow you to apply what you learn in an interactive virtual environment to electrical system design and reconstruction within an aging building. The training includes polling and chat features plus activities, exercises, videos, downloadable summaries, and job aids to help you locate, interpret, and apply code requirements.  The NFPA 70 and NFPA 70E virtual courses are suited for a host of professionals who work within the electrical industry including system designers, engineers, contractors, safety engineers, installation and maintenance professionals, manufacturers, electrical inspectors, and those charged with facility maintenance.  We invite you to learn more about the courses, including how to get continuing education credits, by visiting NFPA's website. Additional resources and information about the NEC and related codes and standards can be found on NFPA's electrical solutions webpage. Want to connect live with industry peers? Join us each week on our NEC Facebook page for a Live event that takes you deeper into electrical topics with experts in the field. Remember, electrical hazards don't shelter-in-place, so while we are all doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, we must still do whatever is needed to safeguard the world against damage and injuries due to electricity. NFPA can't do this alone. Contact us to find out how we can help you meet your training and other professional needs while respecting social distancing guidelines. It's a big world so let's help protect it together.      

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