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September 08, 2017
2018 edition of NFPA electrical safety standard available next month

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) officials say print and electronic versions of its latest electrical safety code, NFPA 70E 2018, will be published in October. The standard, which is updated every three years, contains requirements for safe work practices to protect personnel by reducing exposure to major electrical hazards.

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Originally developed at OSHA’s request in the 1970s, NFPA 70E helps employers and employees avoid workplace injuries and fatalities due to shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast. NFPA says it also assists in complying with OSHA electrical safety standards.

Bill Burke, NFPA’s division manager of electrical engineering explains, “OSHA says that you need to protect yourself, and NFPA says how.” In fact, OSHA standards regularly refer to the NFPA standards, but not to the specific edition, as it changes regularly.

As for what’s new in the 2018 edition, Burke says most of the changes are clarification of terms and modification of definitions, such as amended definitions of arc flash boundary and fault currents. In an effort to align with current OSHA standards and usage, the new NFPA code replaces the term “accidentally contacted” with “unintentionally contacted.”

As NFPA 70E becomes increasingly accepted, the wording needs to reflect language used by safety professionals, not necessarily by electrical professionals, adds Burke.

Beyond language, a key message of the document, and one especially important for lay people to understand, is that “everybody has responsibilities” when it comes to electrical safety. Burke says both NFPA and OSHA are clear that project or building owners are responsible for the safety of personnel working on the site, as well as facility or project managers.

Also significant in the 2018 version of 70E is a reduction of the minimum threshold for protection when working on direct current (DC). “Twenty years ago, DC was basically dead, but it’s making a comeback with cell phones and photovoltaic power and wind power.” Burke explains that DC has different physical characteristics and shock hazards than alternating current (AC) does. Learn more about the new code at www.nfpa.org.

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