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Working Safely in the Electrical Industry

Comments on the latest revisions to the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E

Each and every one of us has broken a rule at one time or another. I don’t care how much of a conformist you claim to be. If you’re really honest with yourself, I’m sure you can recall at least a few times in your life when you’ve thrown caution to the wind and stepped over the line. Trust me. It didn’t take me long to get my list started.

Some people are just wired to constantly buck the system. Unfortunately, keeping a close eye on these types of folks falls on the shoulders of the more responsible members of society. The good news is the majority of us do play by the rules most of the time. Nevertheless, situations inevitably arise in your personal and professional life that put you to the test. It’s at this point where things get interesting.

Fortunately, in many situations, the consequence of breaking a rule is insignificant in the big scheme of things. However, sometimes the outcome can be life-changing or even deadly. Taking risks and breaking rules when working on or near energized electrical equipment and systems falls into the latter group. This is one area where you simply can’t cross the line.

Our Forensic Casebooks are meant to help drive this point home. As sad and gut-wrenching as they may be to read, these articles serve as a vivid reminder of what can happen to you if you choose to push the limits of safe work practices, or, worse yet, totally disregard them. Being careless, taking shortcuts, or just plain ignoring proper safe work practices is unacceptable in today’s workplace. The vast amount of research that has been performed and published on electrical safety in the last 20 years — and the ease and accessibility in obtaining this information — offers no excuse for working in an unsafe manner.

Our cover story this month (starting on page 18) helps reinforce our goal of spreading the word on electrical safety. With the help of a few NFPA 70E technical committee members, a consulting engineer, a safety/maintenance training company expert, and a power system testing company leader, freelance writer Tom Zind summarizes the latest revisions to the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.” These latest revisions mainly target training and verification.

Although working in a safe manner ultimately falls on an individual’s shoulders, employers also bear responsibility for providing you with proper training and creating a safe work environment. Whether it be through auditing the content of their electrical safety program or documenting the records of who received the training, every three years appears to be the magic number. Another important change is that host employers must have meetings with any contractor brought in to work on their systems. Other changes focus on more accurate labeling of equipment and clarifications of appropriate types of personal protective equipment to be used.

Breaking a rule on occasion is a fact of life, but if you take anything at all away from this commentary, remember this: Breaking the rules of electrical safety can cost you your life or the lives of others.

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