What Kind of Near-miss Was Ebola? When I wrote this article in mid-October 2014, Americans were still getting used to the new and scary risk of Ebola. Ebola fears led to a number of airline passengers being yanked off planes because they exhibited flu-like symptoms and had some connection, however remote, to Africa. So far they’ve all tested negative for Ebola. If that remains true, the number of such disruptions will soon decline precipitously. 
Are these events warnings that we should continue to take seriously, “casting a wide net” to reduce the odds of missing an actual Ebola case onboard? Or are they false alarms that we should learn to stop worrying about? Most experts, officials, and journalists say they’re false alarms. But that answer will change in hindsight if a traveler from West Africa ever infects some fellow passengers with Ebola.
Ebola also offers an object lesson in learned overconfidence. The discovery that two nurses were infected with the virus while treating an Ebola sufferer at a Dallas hospital raised many questions. Did the nurses breach PPE protocols? Were the protocols insufficiently protective in the first place? Is it realistic to expect healthcare workers to be 100 percent meticulous in following such protocols? 
One relevant fact: every nurse has considerable experience with breaches of infection control protocols that didn’t end in infection. And all too often the lesson learned isn’t that “We need to be more meticulous.” It is that “Infection control is pretty forgiving. Even when we mess up, it doesn’t usually do any harm.” Then along comes a much less forgiving pathogen, Ebola, and learned overconfidence becomes life-threatening.
Peter Sandman
PAUL A. ZOUBEK, CSP, CIH, is president/principal consultant with Zoubek Consulting, LLC, in San Diego, Calif. He can be reached at paul@zoubekconsulting.com or (619) 677-8682. Zoubek will present a two-day course on the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, “Basic Electrical Safety with Application of NFPA 70E,” May 30–31, at AIHce 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. KAY BECHTOLD is assistant editor for The Synergist. She can ​be reached at kbechtold@aiha.org or (703) 846-0737. ​

The latest edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, NFPA 70E, went into effect in the final months of last year, and, according to NFPA, “reflects a major shift in how stakeholders evaluate electrical risk.” The 2015 version of the global consensus standard was originally developed in 1976. 

The Synergist spoke with Paul A. Zoubek, CSP, CIH, past chair of AIHA’s Safety Committee, about the new edition of NFPA 70E—which revisions are among the most significant, how the revised standard may be received by employers and others, and what’s in store for the future of the electrical safety standard. SHIFTING FOCUS The 2015 edition of NFPA 70E captures an issue that many safety professionals, including Zoubek, agree upon: there is no such thing as zero risk when it comes to workplace safety. The new focus on the concept of risk assessment is evident throughout the standard, where the term “arc flash hazard analysis” has been changed to “arc flash risk assessment,” “shock hazard analysis” now reads “shock risk assessment,” and “hazard identification and risk assessment” is now simply “risk assessment.” 
“We’re going to have risk of injury regardless of the precautions that we take to protect the worker,” Zoubek says. “There’s a more quantitative component when we say ‘arc flash risk assessment’ as opposed to ‘arc flash hazard analysis,’ as it was previously stated in the standard.”
For example, Zoubek explains that an arc flash hazard analysis—the terminology used in the previous edition of NFPA 70E—only addresses the potential for harm. But the new standard shifts the focus to risk assessment, which combines the severity of an injury that a worker may suffer and likelihood of harm.  
According to Zoubek, the focus of NFPA 70E still emphasizes potentially disabling and fatal risk situations to the worker—for example, situations in which the worker is going to be exposed to arc flash and shock hazards. Both previous editions and the current edition of the standard address protective measures for the worker for potential arc flash exposures above 1.2 calories per centimeter squared, a unit of heat energy generated in the event of an arc flash situation. (Heat energy levels at or greater than 1.2 cal/cm2 can cause second degree burns.) The revised standard also includes information about risk to the worker above this threshold. CHANGES AND DELETIONS NFPA’s technical committee on electrical safety continues to fine-tune the standard, and users of NFPA 70E will notice that a couple of familiar terms don’t appear in the new edition. For example, the 2015 edition simplifies approach boundaries, the linear distances to an energized part necessary to protect workers from a shock hazard. Where previous editions of NFPA 70E had three approach boundaries for shock hazard protection, the new edition lists only two; the innermost boundary, previously known as the “prohibited approach boundary,” has been eliminated. The limited and restricted approach boundaries still remain as shock boundaries that must be observed by qualified persons during the course of energized work. 
“The worker needs to don the appropriate protective equipment in order to enter those approach boundaries and be within a certain proximity to an electrical hazard,” Zoubek explains. “The prohibited approach boundary did not really focus on what the worker had to don as far as protective equipment when he went into the other two boundaries.” 
to help protect workers from electrical hazards including shock, electrocution, and arc flash. The 2015 edition of NFPA 70E includes several major revisions, including a greater focus on risk assessment and high-risk situations.
Assessing Risk with NFPA 70E Updated Electrical Safety Standard Increases Focus on Risk Assessment
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The new focus on the concept of risk assessment is evident throug​hout the standard

NFPA has also made some changes to Table 130.7(C)(16), the table on protective clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE). The hazard/risk category has been renamed as the arc flash PPE category, and the hazard/risk category of zero has been removed because the new table only specifies PPE for work within the arc flash boundary. According to NFPA, no arc-rated PPE is required if incident energy is less than 1.2 cal/cm2, thus eliminating hazard/risk category 0 from the PPE table. 

“There have been some pretty significant changes as far as issuances of PPE when it comes to utilizing what used to be called a ‘hazard/risk category,’” Zoubek says. “What NFPA 70E wants us to do—and what is more accurate—is for the employer to perform what’s now called an ‘arc flash risk assessment’ for electrical equipment within a facility to determine the arc flash potential.”
In addition, Zoubek points out that the 2015 edition now uses “arc-rated clothing” in place of “flame-resistant clothing” in the standard, a change that indicates the PPE is intended for use against arc flash as opposed to a fire hazard. 
“It’s going to be a training effort to get people out of the mindset of non-arc-rated PPE,” he says, noting that the new changes will present a challenge as employers navigate using the updated PPE tables versus performing an arc flash hazard analysis. AUDITING The 2015 edition of NFPA 70E clarifies the requirement for qualified persons to be audited on an annual basis, a requirement that fell under the training section of the 2012 edition of the standard. According to Zoubek, the requirement that these annual audits should include the observation and documentation of field work may have previously been subjective. The 2015 version clarifies that these audits to verify compliance with the procedures of the electrical safety program must be performed at least annually, and the requirement has been relocated to a section of the standard on auditing. The definition for “qualified person” was revised for the 2015 edition to correlate with OSHA’s definition of the term.
NFPA also added safety-related maintenance requirements and other administrative controls to the standard’s scope statement to clarify that “training and auditing are equally important safety-related work practices.” WISH LIST Zoubek hoped to see more information about footwear in this most recent version of NFPA 70E, which specifies leather footwear in the event of an arc flash situation. However, Zoubek notes, this does not address all situations regarding the shock hazard—for example, if the worker is grounded. 
“One of the things I would like to see in subsequent editions is a bit more direction on when dielectric footwear is required,” he says.  
In the meantime, Zoubek advises safety professionals to check the ANSI and ASTM standards for more guidance on footwear to ensure that workers are properly protected. 
“There’s always a better way of doing things, and I imagine once [NFPA comes] out with the next revision [of NFPA 70E], they’ll find more improvements,” he says. LOOKING AHEAD NFPA 70E is typically revised every three to four years, and will be due for a new edition in 2018 or 2019. According to Zoubek, previous editions of NFPA 70E may have been challenging to implement for some employers due to more significant revisions to the standard. But with the comparatively minimal changes that appear in the 2015 edition, Zoubek believes that safety professionals will see less resistance regarding implementation of the standard. 
“Hopefully our peers and other safety professionals will view this [standard positively] in that we’re trying to protect the worker, which is our ultimate goal,” he says.
And workers are keen on learning how to protect themselves. Electricians, mechanics, and other workers who may be exposed to electrical hazards have become more receptive to understanding the importance of wearing PPE over the last several revisions of the standard, Zoubek notes. This change is particularly noticeable in younger workers, who see PPE as critical for safety and even a “requirement” in their line of work, he says.
Of the future of NFPA 70E, Zoubek says, “It’s just getting more fine-tuned and practical as the years go on.”