Is arc flash compliance an OSHA requirement?

I am often asked if ARC Flash Compliance is an OSHA requirement so…

OSHA and NFPA 70E

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that employers “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Note the phrase… “recognized hazards:” NFPA 70E, as an industry consensus standard that addresses shock and arc-flash hazards, will become used as evidence that a hazard is “recognized.”

OSHA can also use NFPA 70E as a reference in general duty clause citations, in determining if there was a feasible method of correcting a hazard. OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S Appendix A – Reference documents specifically state that NFPA 70E is a national consensus standard, and is helpful in understanding and complying with the requirements of Subpart S – Electrical. We have recently seen several citations where reference to NFPA 70E mentioned specifically.

OSHA’s 29 CFR contains many requirements for electrical safe work practices that parallel NFPA standards, but without specific directives on how to apply the requirements. Relevant industry standards such as NFPA 70E, 99, 101 and others are considered best practice methods for complying with the more general OSHA rules stated and are often used by other AHJ agents to grant occupancy of both public and private facilities.

OSHA 1910.303 requires employers to mark electrical equipment with descriptive markings, including the equipment’s voltage, current, wattage, or other ratings as necessary. Employers are also required to use techniques such as safety signs and tags, barricades, and attendants to warn and protect employees from hazards that could cause injury due to electric shock, burns or failure of electric equipment parts.

OSHA’s regulations do not include a specific requirement for the use of fire resistant clothing, but paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of §1910.335 requires the use of protective shields, barriers, or insulating equipment “to protect each employee from shocks, burns, or other electrically related injuries while that employee is working . . . where dangerous electric heating or arcing might occur,” and that the “shield, barrier, or insulating material — must fully protect employees from electric shock, the blast, and arc- flash burn hazards associated with the incident energy exposure for the specific task to be performed.”

In both these areas, NFPA 70E is the industry consensus standard that gives more specific guidance on compliance. Following NFPA 70E standards is the catalyst to ensuring compliance with OSHA regulations on electrical safety.

In closing, if a person believes a consensus standard that is not specifically mentioned in an OSHA standards does not matter and therefore is not required by law, I suppose they should disregard other NFPA publications such as life safety codes, fire protection codes or installation standards. Either they are in a state of denial or have never had the pleasure of dealing with an upset compliance officer or even worse the grief of a spouse or loved one who awaits the outcome of a horrible tragedy.

If you are concerned about the safety or compliance of you facility, give us a call. We are experts in workplace safety, and specifically in electrical safety analysis and risk mitigation. Mark Mitchell, 502-682-8491 or e-mail: mmitchell@mitchellandlindsey.com.