OSHA's Electrical Standards

OSHA's general industry electrical standards, found in Subpart S, §1910.301 through §1910.399 are based on the National Fire Protection Association's Standard NFPA 70E,Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces, and the National Electrical Code (NEC). In addition to general industry, they apply to shipyard employment, longshoring, and marine terminals.

OSHA also has electrical standards for construction, but recommends that employers in this industry follow the general industry electrical standards whenever possible for hazards that are not addressed by their industryspecific standards.

The electrical standards help minimize potential electric-related hazards by specifying safety aspects in the design and use of electrical equipment and systems. Currently, the standards cover only those parts of any electrical system that an employee would normally use or contact. For example, the exposed and/or operating elements of an electrical installation — lighting, equipment, motors, machines, appliances, switches, controls, and enclosures — must be constructed and installed so as to minimize workplace electrical dangers.

OSHA Revises Design and Installation Requirements

On February 14, 2007, OSHA issued a revised standard for the design and installation of electric equipment. It is the first revision to the electrical installation requirements since 1981. The changes reflect current industry practices by drawing heavily from the 2000 edition of the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces (NFPA 70E), and the 2002 edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC).

 The revised provisions, which were effective August 13, 2007, are intended to help eliminate inconsistencies and confusion between OSHA's requirements and many state and local building codes which have adopted updated NFPA and NEC provisions. They also address stakeholder requests to revise the standard so that it conforms with the most recent edition of NFPA 70E with requirements for:
  • Identifying multi-wire branch circuits;
  • Providing signage for on-site emergency power sources; and
  • Marking and listing power sources for power-limited fire alarm circuit power sources.
For workplaces covered by the changes, the impact is far-reaching. "Qualified" employees have new "workmanship" requirements and new rules for replacing equipment. "Unqualified" employees (such as safety supervisors) have new requirements for locking out and tagging disconnecting means for certain electrical equipment.
Qualified versus Unqualified Workers
For some time, OSHA has divided employees into two groups regarding the training and experience levels needed to work on electrical systems. OSHA uses the term "qualified" and "unqualified" to distinguish between those employees.

The qualified person must know when, where, and how to place barriers; how to lockout and tag a disconnecting means; and how to work on the system. Some new requirements specifically for qualified employees address:
  • Workmanship when installing electrical equipment such as rat's nest and wiring packed too tight (fire hazard).
  • Working space around electrical equipment (elbow room).
  • Procedures for replacing electrical equipment such as new receptacles.
Unqualified employees, those that do not work directly with electrical systems, still have to be able to recognize electrical hazards, stay clear of barricaded areas when qualified employees are working on electrical systems, and recognize appropriate lockout/tagout implementation. Additionally, they have to ensure that portable tools and extension cords are plugged into Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) and that equipment with flexible cords (i.e., the cords that came with the equipment) are plugged directly into a receptacle.

The following section provides an overview of basic electrical safety for individuals with little or limited training or familiarity with electrical hazards. The concepts and principles presented will help further an understanding of OSHA's electrical safety standards.

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