Improve engineer safety with NFPA 70E labeling requirements

In the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E, there are updates to label requirements and information about how digital labels can enhance electrical safety.
By Eddie Jones, PE, Schneider Electric March 13, 2018

Courtesy: CFE MediaFor facility managers and employees, safety should always be a top priority. But with the busy nature of electrical engineering, workers may inadvertently gloss over equipment hazard information designed to keep them out of harm’s way. How can managers ensure that the electrical engineers in their facility are working safely? By arming workers with as much useful information as possible.

To assist with risk mitigation, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has released electrical equipment usage guidelines that are recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These guidelines address issues pertinent to an electrical engineer’s everyday responsibilities including equipment installation, proper maintenance, assessments, and workwear. In 2018, NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace introduced new labeling, allowing for easier access to equipment operating and hazard specifications for electrical engineers.

The new edition expands previous guidelines to address using smart labels—specifically for supervised industrial installations—where maintenance and engineering supervision conditions ensure that only qualified managers monitor and service the electrical system. Smart labels empower facility managers to give workers more access to hands-on information.

NFPA 70E-2018 label updates

Historically, electrical equipment labeling has been simple with many labels displaying only the most critical safety information. The 2018 updates to NFPA 70E provide an exception by standardizing the use of digital smart labels such as barcodes or QR codes for qualified installations. These barcodes and QR codes are connected to a central database, which enable facility managers to store terabytes of information workers can reference while they operate on each piece of equipment. Additionally, because the central database can easily be updated as more details become available, smart labels help to eliminate any safety issues previously caused by outdated printed labels.

Benefits from using digital labels include:

  • Increase in available information: The databases connected to digital labels house large amounts of information. In addition to required safety information, workers also have access to maintenance records, instruction and operation manuals, and more. This volume of data can make the process of operating equipment safer and provide insight into when equipment may need to be replaced.
  • Reduce label replacement time and labor: Keeping labels up to date will be much easier as facility workers need to only update the digital data platform instead of ripping and replacing printed labels with old information. This latter process will no longer be necessary and workers can spend more time and energy focusing on actual electrical systems operations. 

Challenges with digital labels

While the additional information provided via digital labels can improve safety, additional challenges may arise as workers familiarize themselves with the new process. Facility management needs to ensure workers have access to all the information connected to the label so they can anticipate and mitigate potential challenges such as: 

  • Needing proper cloud solutions: The business must have the appropriate cloud solution in place, and workers will need to be able to access this cloud. Additional information technology (IT) management may be necessary as well as the assigning of new employee logins and access codes.
  • Having necessary equipment: Facility workers need the proper handheld technology, namely QR code or barcode readers, to scan labels.
  • Ensuring compliance: Equipment labeling will still need to be compliant with additional safety regulations set by bodies outside of the NFPA such as NFPA 70: National Electric Code (NEC), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). These additional codes and standards outline equipment labeling information, language and symbols, and physical durability of the labels and placement.

The expanded guidelines for equipment labeling will help electrical workers to work (or execute or operate) more safely by having access to more information than before. This results in a better understanding of the equipment facility workers are operating on and allowing them to make better decisions on how to use, maintain, and troubleshoot the equipment. Facility managers who choose to implement these new labels can expect to see a safer, more efficient facility operations and maintenance.

Eddie Jones is an engineering manager at Schneider Electric. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

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