Arc Flash PPE Not Required During Normal Operating Conditions —
What Are Normal Operating Conditions?


Bobby Lindsey


Do I need to use Arc Flash PPE to reset a tripped breaker? This question, or a similar one, is one of the most common I am asked in my training classes. The answer depends on the task and the conditions.

If the equipment and task satisfy the criteria for Normal Operating Conditions, the answer is “No.”
You do not need PPE.

If the equipment and task do not satisfy the criteria for Normal Operating Condition, the answer is “Yes.”
You do need PPE.

To get to the right answer, you need to know what defines normal operating conditions. In the electrical world, a normal operating condition exists when all six of the following criteria are met. Note: All six conditions must be met.


The equipment is properly installed.


The equipment is properly maintained.


The equipment is used as intended and in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.


The doors are closed and secured.


The covers are in place and secured.


There is no evidence of impending failure.


A Normal Operating Condition exists when all the conditions are satisfied.

It’s important that we not gloss over each of these conditions or assume that they are met, so let’s look at each condition in more detail.

1. The equipment is properly installed.

This means that the equipment is installed in accordance with applicable industry codes and standards along with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Has the equipment been inspected? If not, can you show that it is installed per the NEC? In many buildings, electrical projects are conducted by in-house personnel. Make sure the equipment has been installed safely and properly.

2. The equipment is properly maintained. 

This starts with the preventive maintenance (PM) program. Does your PM program test and inspect according to manufacturer’s recommendations? Can you show preventive maintenance records on the equipment? Has any recommended corrective action been performed? NFPA 70B – Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance provides valuable guidance on proper equipment maintenance.

3. Is the equipment used for its intended purpose?

Sounds straightforward, but we have all seen situations in which the equipment is used for something other than its intended function. Hammers are for driving nails, not painting walls. Intended use also means that the equipment is performing the proper function within its range of tolerance. A 100-amp breaker with consistent load of 105 amps is not being used as intended. In fact, most breakers are only rated for 80% of continuous load.

4. Are all doors closed and secured?

This means the doors between the worker and exposed, live electrical parts. This does not mean the hinged front panel door on a panelboard or breaker panel.

5. Are all covers in place and secured?

Secured means that all screws, bolts, and other fasteners are in place and none are missing.

6. Is there any evidence of impending failure?

Use your senses for this. Do you hear, smell, or see anything that points to a problem with the equipment? Is there evidence of arcing, overheating, loose connections, or visible damage?

Let’s go back to the original question: 
 Do I need to use Arc Flash PPE to reset a tripped breaker

? To answer that question for a particular piece of equipment, you need to go through each of the six criteria. If any of these conditions are not met, you will need to look for ways to do the work de-energized or utilize the proper PPE. If, however, you satisfy all of the criteria of a normal operating condition, there is no reason to assume that it is unsafe.

One side note on this question.

Before resetting a tripped breaker, you need to know why the breaker tripped. If you can prove that it tripped because of an overload condition, then it can be safely reset. If you can’t prove that it was an overload or you don’t know why it tripped, you must assume that it doesn’t meet the conditions of number 6 above. In other words, this is evidence of impending failure. A breaker tripping from something other than overload means that there is something wrong somewhere in the electrical system or with the breaker itself. Further investigation is required.

As you can see, determining what constitutes normal operating conditions is not straightforward. Stringent criteria must be met. 
 he lesson here is simple: The more robust and comprehensive your preventive maintenance plan, the more likely your equipment is considered normal.

Thank you for your time. Mitchell & Lindsey offers Arc Flash Risk Assessments and Electrical Safety Training. If we can be of service to you in these areas or if you have any questions about this article, please reach out to me at the email or phone number below.

Don’t forget to check out our other articles and videos at 
Thank you and be safe!
Bobby Lindsey – CESCP
Mitchell & Lindsey – President
M: (502) 836-4217

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