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The Evolution of Electrical Safety Month

Written 05.02.23 | By Dominique A.

The history of electrical safety began in 1882 when Thomas Edison created the first commercial electrical power system that produced direct current electricity (DC) and later provided electricity for all of New York City. This system generated 100 kilowatts of electricity, lighting 50 incandescent lamps, but had the ability to light 1200 lamps. Years later, Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse created a new power system called the alternating current (AC), which could transfer power through longer distances. Unfortunately, developing these electrical advancements also brought dangerous hazards, like the first electrical shock caused by an industrial generator.

Five electrical safety codes were developed in 1895 to ensure all electrical installations were consistent with creating a safer work environment. However, this caused complications, making it hard for workers to keep the same standard for every job, so a committee created the National Electrical Code (NEC). Later sponsored by the NFPA, the NEC® is a set of electrical code requirements every person working in the electrical industry must know to conduct electrical installations.

Portrait of Thomas Edison
Portrait of Thomas Edison

To further evolve safety standards for workers, Charles Dalziel, an electrical engineering professor, studied the effects of electricity on humans, specifically electric shock, in 1956. Since there wasn't evidence of this study prior to his research, Charles Dalziel used volunteers. He learned that most fatalities were caused by ground faults, which resulted in the development of the ground-fault circuit interpreter or GFCI outlets and breakers commonly used in bathrooms and kitchens to reduce electrical shock. After learning about Dalziel's research, the NEC® made GFCI a requirement to mitigate electrical deaths.

In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created after the US Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure a safe work environment through education and training. After OSHA was formed, they requested to update the electrical safety standards, and in 1979, the NFPA 70E created the Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces.

Source: City Electric Supply

The Origins of PPE

In 1982, electrical engineer Ralph H. Lee, a member of NEC and NFPA 70E, conducted research on arc flashes. He wrote a research paper to report on his findings called "The Other Electrical Hazard: Electric Arc Blasts Burns."  Through his research, he explained the cause of arc flashes and how to prevent them, which has saved many workers' lives and prevented serious injuries. However, it wasn't until 1995 that the NFPA 70E created safety standards for arc flash prevention. Five years later, NFPA 70E began researching the best fire-resistant (FR) fabrics to create PPE that protected against the effects of an arc flash. That same year, arc flash calculation techniques were developed to help predict the prospective incident energy, measured as cal/cm2. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations is the most commonly used method as it measures the full length of an arc flash based on the arc's short circuit current and the timing of the arc. The results will help determine the best PPE for your job.

In 2009, the NFPA 70E added a new requirement for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which stressed the importance of personal safety and required additional labels to gear to help provide a more accessible selection. In 2015 OSHA updated the standard to further protect against arc flashes and required the labels on gear to state these items: nominal system voltage, arc flash boundary, and at least one of the following: available incident energy, corresponding working distance, minimum arc rating clothing, or site-specific level of PPE.

Big Chill Beanie Certifications

Safety Tips for the Workplace

According to the Border States article, here are 15 Electrical Safety tips to keep in mind when you're on the job.

  1. Avoid wet areas near electrical equipment.
  2. Avoid pulling on the cord when disconnecting equipment to prevent damage to the cable or electrocution.
  3. Maintain an organized workspace and keep exposed cords tucked away. 
  4. If your job site requires a switchboard, ensure you understand its limits to prevent overheating.
  5. Identify power lines that are present, so you can adequately plan.
  6. Display warning signs if you're working near high-voltage equipment
  7. Keep a safe distance from electrical hazards — especially if it carries an electrical current greater than 50V.
  8. Place barriers around electrical hazards to prevent workers from coming in contact with a live current or exposed wires. 
  9. Avoid using conductive tools near live currents.
  10. Avoid operating electrical equipment near flammable materials like dust, vapors, etc.
  11. Be sure to follow your company's safety guidelines to prevent workplace accidents.
  12. Avoid wearing materials like jewelry or chains when working on energized equipment.
  13. Wear certified PPE when working near energized equipment. 
  14. If an emergency occurs, be sure you can easily access and shut off live equipment.
  15. If the situation escalates, contact the appropriate officials to assess and resolve the issue.

At DragonWear, we strive to provide quality workwear that adheres to electrical safety standards with top-tier performance in the most demanding work environments. So before heading out on your next job, check out DragonWear’s collection of NFPA 70E and NFPA 2112 certified fire and arc-resistant workwear designed to provide optimal protection and immense comfort.