A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 10 – Incident Investigations)
Does an employee get punished when they make a mistake? Are they afraid of notifying a supervisor when something goes wrong? Is an employee who points out a safety issue sent back to work without having the issue resolved? One NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® requirement that is occasionally not well addressed in an electrical safety program (ESP) is the incident investigation requirement in Section 110.5(J). The reason is that with electricity no incident should be treated as minor. Every 120-volt electric shock is a brush with death. However, electric shocks, minor burns, and unjustified live work are not reported until a greater injury occurs. Investigations required by NFPA 70E are not for the purpose of assigning blame. They are to improve employee safety. An ESP must include the details of how, why, when and what happens with incident investigations.
Incident investigations should not be limited to those where an employee is injured to the point where medical attention is required. An electric current’s path through a human body affects each person differently. An employee with a pacemaker may have a problem days after an incident. Employees should be trained and encouraged to report any dangerous situation as well as any injury regardless of the cause or severity. The investigation could reveal that the ESP, work procedures, protective equipment, training, or test instruments require revision to prevent a future occurrence, injury, or death.
Without an investigation into what occurred there is possibility that a fatality could happen the next time that same task is conducted. The employee could have received an electric shock due to unjustified energized work, insufficient training, damaged equipment, wrong qualification for the task, inappropriate personal protective equipment, flawed job planning, or errors in the procedure. But none of that will matter unless this near-death situation is reported and the cause rectified. Employers and employees must accept their responsibilities and work together to find the cause of any incident. Although electrical incidents are often the result of human error, an employee does not intentionally initiate an electrical incident. However, it is important that an enforcement program be established for willful violations of safety regulations.
The ESP must assign responsibility for each step in the incident investigation. The procedure must not only cover what is required as part of an investigation but the training for the investigator. The incident and investigation must be documented. There can be no improvement in safety without a final step requiring that necessary changes be incorporated. If it is determined that training was the culprit, modification of the training program could include increasing the frequency of training or adding follow-up verification of compliance. The ESP must address who is be responsible for incorporating the improvements.
Do not use incident investigations as means to punish but to gain knowledge and to educate. Involving employees in the process gives them a personal stake in improving workplace safety. For the ESP to work, employers and employees must cooperate and trust that safely returning home each day is paramount in the workplace.