The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that more than 2,000 people are admitted to burn centers each year due to arc flash related injuries. Case studies point to an average cost of injury and death $6 million and $15 million, respectively, with an addition average OSHA fine exceeding $100,000. For a safety concern that largely flies under the radar of most facility managers, arc flash incidents are causing major impacts on business bottom lines, and employee safety. arc_flash_6

That’s why on September 20, 2017, NFPA will release the 2018 edition of the 70E (Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace), with a new philosophy for reducing arc flash risk: prevention. Up until now, the standard has typically focused on managing risk, but an emphasis has now been placed on also outlining proactive strategies to avoid arc flash incidents all together. Today, we’re exploring some of the key changes to the manual to help spread the word.


The new version will include a change in technical language that follows what the true meaning of prevention stands for.

  • Words “accident” and “accidentally” will be replaced with “incident” and “unintentionally” which mean that there are no unavoidable electrical incidents and all are preventable.
  • Term “normal operation” will be replaced with “normal operating procedure” which requires that equipment is used in accordance with the listing and manufacturer’s instructions for equipment.


NFPA recognizes that not everyone is a technical expert in electrical equipment. To help make information more accessible and easy to digest for a wider audience of facility managers and employees, the new edition will feature a re-organization of certain sections.

  • Specific article that discusses establishing an electrically safe work condition has been reorganized to make the lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) procedure follow a more logical sequence.
  • Sections that describes the arc flash risk assessment have been reorganized to include an estimate of likelihood and severity, and tables are now more user-friendly.


Below is a outline of the new Hierarchy of Safety Controls that will be featured in the 2018 edition, which explains safety controls in order of most effective to least effective.

  1. Elimination

    • Definition: If electrical equipment can be put into an electrically safe work condition, potential electrical hazards will be eliminated and the risk to workers is almost zero.
    • In-practice example: Before performing maintenance on your machine control cabinet, take it out of commission: make sure the equipment has gone through lock out/tag out, been tested to verify the voltage absence, and deemed in a safe working condition.
  2. Substitution

    • Definition: Replacing standard electrical tasks and actions with new ones that have less risk.
    • In-practice example: Have two transformers in close proximity that make it hard to service voltage measurements on one or the other without dangerous meter probing? Access the machine control downstream instead – it will show roughly the same voltage, and all but eliminate arc flash risk.
  3. Engineering Controls

    • Definition: Install equipment such as maintenance bypass switches, differential relaying, and arc flash mitigation systems that redirects arc flash energy to a safe location, or decreases the time the arc flash is active.
    • In-practice example: Design and install a differential relay system for switchgear that has a high incident energy available at the busbar (conductor).
  4. Awareness

    • Definition: Standardize the use of warning labels, signs, and alerting techniques that can be used to make workers aware of potential hazards before they come in contact.
    • In-practice example: In addition to the required signage posted on equipment, post creative, eye-catching warning signs around common employee spaces.
  5. Administrative Controls

    • Definition: Formalize employee training, auditing, and risk assessments to increase awareness around electrical hazards.
    • In-practice example: Provide arc flash hazard training every three years (at a minimum), and follow up with field audits on an annual basis. Field audits serve a dual purpose in that they help facilitate a constructive safety procedure conversation with workers who work around electricity, while also providing an opportunity to increase awareness among other staff members who do not work around exposed, energized equipment but may work nearby.
  6. Personal Protective Equipment

    • Definition: Provide and require clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection.
    • In-practice example: Conduct a voltage measurement at a variable frequency drive (a type of motor controller) and determine what level of protection should be used when servicing that specific equipment. Depending on results, anything from non-melting fiber clothing to a full-blown arc-rated coverall could be necessary.

Be ready. Be aware. Be Proactive.

The 70E is sure to provide an effective roadmap to help facility managers get to a safer, lower risk operation of electrical equipment, but it’s important to remember that no two building systems, operations, or employee teams are the same. As we look forward to the 2018 edition’s release, it’s critical to reflect on what you are doing, and what you can do, to protect facility capital and employees from the risk of arc flash incidents. Get ahead of the game – seek out the expertise of local resources skilled in helping partners assess, define, and implement arc flash prevention, training, and procedures in their own facilities. Be ready. Be aware. Be proactive.

Join the conversation #safety #arcflash #NFPA #ISGElectricalEngineering

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Meet Jason Wijas PE

With a broad background in electrical design, Jason understands communications, emergency systems, and stand-by and back-up power methods for municipal, government, and recreational facilities. His experience includes designing the power,...