While worker competence and training are vital to safety, their importance is a function of the base safety level of the working environment. The 2012 edition of 70E adds and refines language across the standard that adds more clarity to how workplaces can and should ensure that workers encounter the fewest conceivable risks and hazards.

To reiterate the preferable safety advantages of working in a de-energized environment, whenever possible, a revision at the beginning of Sec. 130.1 – Electrically Safe Working Conditions clarifies the necessity of first justifying the need for energized work. Added language here states energized conductors or circuit parts a worker might be exposed to should be made safe prior to work beginning if the worker is within the limited approach/arc flash boundary. The main effect of the new language, which does allow for exceptions if arc flash risks are gauged acceptably low via a hazard identification and risk assessment procedure, is to emphasize the need for up-front establishment of a full justification for working energized, Neitzel says.

“We put the wording in a certain order because of the need for establishing the foundation for energized electrical work and the basis for an energized work permit,” he says. “This offers the best protection for workers by giving employers every opportunity to de-energize before they even start talking about energized work. They have to prove that’s the only way to do it.”

While Neitzel says statistics do seem to suggest that less energized work is being done — due perhaps to greater awareness of 70E — the additional clarity in the 2012 edition could prompt more workplaces to look for opportunities to make de-energized work more feasible and commonplace.