Written by Steve Hudgik
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) enforces arc flash safety regulations in the United States. Its authority to do so stems from Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety act, which states that employers "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees".
OSHA considers arc flash to be a "recognized hazard" for which appropriate safety standards (most importantly, NFPA 70E) exist. While OSHA does not mandate that employers follow NFPA 70E, failure to do so may result in a citation in the event of an arc flash incident which NFPA 70E compliance could have prevented. In addition, various states have OSHA state plans which mandate compliance with NFPA 70E. Employers should check the relevant state codes, as considerable variation exists.
OSHA fines for unsafe electrical work can add considerably to the costs of an arc flash incident. Violations can carry penalties of up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for companies.
OSHA 29 CFR-1910 Subpart S regulates electrical safety, and states in part that "Safety related work practices shall be employed to prevent electric shock or other injuries resulting from either direct or indirect electrical contacts...." In general, employers have a number of responsibilities under this regulation:
OSHA emphasizes that no work should be performed on live electrical equipment above 50 V, except where (1) de-energizing equipment would cause a greater safety hazard; or (2) where de-energizing is not possible due to equipment design or the nature of the work being performed. Economic infeasibility of de-energizing is not an adequate excuse for performing work on energized equipment.
Once equipment has been de-energized, OSHA requires that appropriate lockout/tagout procedures are followed to ensure that the equipment is not accidentally re-energized. Violations of lockout/tagout procedures are consistently among the top ten sources of OSHA citations.
OSHA regulations do not, as a rule, establish specific safety practices (for instance, detailed rules for selecting PPE). Instead, relevant industry standards such as NFPA 70E are considered "how-to" guides for complying with the more general OSHA rules.
A link to the OSHA 29 CFR-1910 can be found on our Other Resources page.