virtually no incidents. But the guidelines in the new NFPA 70E
suggested that those tasks were potentially far more hazardous
than extensive industry-wide field experience had shown them
Other employers raised concerns about the difficulty of applying broad consensus standards in certain settings. For example, employers that service equipment at a host employer may
have multiple employees who perform diagnostic work on energized control panels. Some of these employees may make service calls at several locations in a single day, with little to no
advance notice. Most panels would contain parts operating at
less than 240 volts, which is one of the thresholds that determines whether workers should wear more protective PPE. Lines
into the panels that were greater than 240 volts would be reduced to 240 or less in the area of the box on which work was
to occur; still, the employee would likely be within the 48-inch
NFPA 70E arc flash boundary for the higher voltage part. There
could be multiple transformers serving circuits, as well, which
the employees would not know beforehand. Under the new
NFPA 70E, such conditions would probably require a detailed
arc flash hazard analysis even if industry-wide experience suggested that injuries were highly unlikely.
Certain tables in the NFPA 70E standard are meant to help employers determine whether an arc flash hazard analysis is necessary. However, in some instances, using these tables requires
knowledge of short-circuit current and fault clearing times—
information that is unlikely to be available to employees on
service calls. Thus, work previously thought to present no extraordinary electrical hazards—where PPE could consist of appropriate gloves, boots, safety glasses, natural fiber pants and
long-sleeved shirts—could now require calculation of an arc flash
hazard analysis, an arc flash suit hood or balaclava and face
shield, coveralls with an arc rating of at least eight, and the like.
Obviously, the intent of consensus safety standards like NFPA
70E is to prevent accidents before they occur. Even if an industry hasn’t experienced a certain kind of accident, that alone
does not mean that a provision in a standard is unnecessary.
Unfortunately, a consensus safety standard meant to be broad in
application will sometimes be over-inclusive. OSHA’s procedures for
promulgating rules exist to minimize surprises on the regulated
community and provide opportunities for rules to reflect the concerns of industry and workers. But if OSHA intends to use NFPA
70E to support citations issued for violations of the General Duty
Clause, the agency and employers may end up debating what constitutes appropriate PPE in court. It would be better for all concerned to settle this argument during the rulemaking process.
Paul Waters, JD, is with Akerman Senterfitt. He can be reached