The NEC requires a certain amount of space around equipment. But how much? The common misperception among non-electrical people is you should try to get up to three feet of space, if it’s available. The three feet figure typically comes from OSHA Table K-1, Working Clearances. But this table clearly states “Minimum” in its title and includes clearances of 3.5 ft and 4 ft — so much for “3 ft if you can spare it.”
This misperception meets its defeat in NEC Sec. 110.26, which requires providing and maintaining access and working space “about all electrical equipment to permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of such equipment.”
Subsection 110.26 makes the OSHA and NEC minimums mere starting points. A given installation that has a minimum 3 ft clearance per the tables may in reality require 5 ft of clearance. Who determines this?
In a legal sense, the AHJ makes this determination. The AHJ doesn’t examine space for each piece of equipment, but insufficient space might be determined during a liability suit.
Rather than wait for an incident to force the issue, maintenance experts should make your case to management early on. You can provide a compelling case by simply video-documenting certain maintenance procedures and pointing out where space limitations create an unnecessary hazard.