AMERICAN SOCIETY OF SAFETY ENGINEERS

1800 East Oakton Street
Des Plaines, Illinois 60018-2187
847.699.2929
FAX 847.296.3769
www.asse.org

June 3, 2004

The Honorable John Henshaw
Assistant Secretary of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
OSHA Docket Office
Docket No. S-108C
Room N-2625
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

RE: Revision of General Industry Electrical Installation Standard

Dear Assistant Secretary Henshaw:

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) represents 30,000 safety, health and environmental (SH+E) professionals committed to helping ensure that every occupational setting is safe, healthy and protected from environmental risks. Our members are located in every state and can be found in every industry leading SH+E initiatives that help make sure workers are able to go home from their jobs safe and healthy each day.

We are pleased to submit the following comments concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed rule that would revise selected parts of its electrical standard for general industry and maritime employment, 29 CFR §§ 1910.302-1910.308 (Subpart S). The proposed rule

was published on April 5, 2004, at 69 Fed. Reg. 17773-17842. We ask that these comments be included in the administrative record under Docket No. S-108C.

ASSE commends OSHA on embarking on this update, and the agency's recognition that this standard incorporates by reference significantly outdated versions of consensus standards, thus not providing the level of protection to workers that would otherwise be possible. ASSE has identified other likewise outdated standards in various communications with the agency and through its welcome standards improvement project. A copy of ASSE's position statement concerning utilization of voluntary consensus standards is attached, and we ask that it be included as part of this record.

It is appropriate to move forward with this revision, given the seriousness of electrical hazards and the fact that nearly 300 workers are killed each year from contact with electrical current or as the result of injuries caused by fires and explosions related to electrical accidents. Because OSHA is promulgating a standard that will substantially reduce a significant risk of material harm to workers, the legal burden for this revision is met.

Incorporating Standards by Reference

ASSE agrees that incorporating by reference most of the NFPA 70E-2000 and the 1999 version of the National Electrical Code (NEC) upon which the NFPA 70E-2000 is based, as well as basing certain other sections on the 2002 edition of the NEC, makes sense and enhances protections. At the same time, these incorporations minimize new regulatory burdens on the majority of covered employers. We must note, however, that NFPA 70E-2000 is already undergoing revision, and the next version (NFPA 70E-2004) will renumber many sections in order to follow the 2002 NEC. Therefore, depending on the time it takes to complete this rulemaking, we have some concern that it may be functionally obsolete when it is published and, thus, have diminished utility in the future since most electricians are currently learning the NEC 2002 coding system. It is beneficial for those most heavily engaged in electrical work to all use the same safety standard to the extent feasible.

ASSE supports generally OSHA's assumption that most new installations already conform to these requirements and that many older installations have already been modified to meet these requirements -- based on applicable state codes that use these or comparable consensus standards as a minimum safety requirement. The current standard relied heavily on the 1979 version of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces , and that standard has been updated through a transparent consensus process several times since then, which largely rendered OSHA's current standards obsolete.

ASSE views the major differences between the current versions of these electrical installation standards and the proposed rule as falling into the following categories:

  1. Changes in hardware specifications that are consistent with NEC requirements,
  2. Changes in installation practices that are consistent with the current, accepted installation practices followed by licensed electricians and other qualified persons (e.g., more widespread requirements for Ground Fault Circuit Interruptors, or “GFCI”),
  3. Clarification of existing requirements that add minimal new obligations or otherwise permit flexibility in compliance (e.g., use of a “zone system” as a new option), and
  4. Requirements that do significantly modify electrical system and equipment installation practices or impose new documentation requirements (e.g., documentation of hazardous locations).

Zone Classification

OSHA has proposed flexibility in adoption of a “zone classification system” for identifying and controlling electrical hazards, as an alternative to the widely accepted “division” system. See proposed §1910.307. ASSE agrees with this proposal, as it will be of significant benefit to those companies with multi-national operations in having consistent safety and health programs, as the zone classification system is largely based on recognized European standards developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission.

The Society also endorses the new documentation requirements for hazardous locations under this system, regardless of when the installation was put in place since a shift to “zone system” practices will be relatively new to most employers. Similarly, the requirement of documenting boundaries for new installations made after the effective date of the standard for hazardous locations under the division system will have safety benefits while not being unduly burdensome.

Grounding Protection

Proposed §1910.304(b)(4) adds requirements for GFCI protection of receptacles and cord connectors, and to temporary wiring installations in general industry, applicable to installations made after the effective date. This is an important aspect of this rule and will greatly contribute to the rule's effectiveness in saving lives. It is also consistent with OSHA's current requirements in 29 CFR Part 1926, for construction sites. Thus, its efficacy and feasibility are already demonstrated.

We do, however, ask OSHA to reconsider its decision not to permit the NFPA 70E “assured grounding program” as an alternative to GFCIs in general industry and maritime employment, or at least to work at harmonizing this program with the “assured grounding program” permitted under OSHA's construction standards. Perhaps this can be accomplished by retaining NFPA's requirement that maintenance and supervision be performed only by qualified personnel and for receptacle outlets rated other than 125 volts and 15, 20 or 30 amperes. We do agree that OSHA's current testing program in the construction standard, which requires testing after any incident that can reasonable be suspected to have caused damage, is preferable to the approach taken in NFPA 70E.

Exemptions and Grandfathering

ASSE supports the “grandfathering” provisions in the proposed rule and believes that the timetables for upgrading existing installations in some circumstances are reasonable, and that limiting most of the rule's to new installations that are initiated after the effective date of the rule is a reasonable approach consistent with minimizing unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining adequate protection for workers.

ASSE also supports the proposed definition of “overhaul,” which is “to perform a major replacement, modification, repair, or rehabilitation similar to that involved when a new building or facility is built, a new wing is added, or an entire floor is renovated,” which is meant to specify where grandfathering provisions apply. This definition provides clarity in determining compliance responsibilities.

The Society also agrees that it is appropriate to exempt from coverage certain installations about ships, watercraft, railway stock, aircraft and automotive vehicles, communication systems, and electric utilities, and to cover installation requirements for electric power generation under § 1910.269, rather than in Subpart S.

ASSE further endorses the flexibility of permitting compliance with the detailed specifications of the 1999 NEC to also satisfy compliance with the performance-oriented requirements of revised Subpart S (modeled on the NFPA 70E-2000).

As OSHA notes throughout the proposed rule's preamble, injuries resulting from electrical hazards have continued to decline over the past decade. This rule will only enhance protections that are otherwise already proven effective in preventing hazardous exposures under most circumstances, and these exemptions and “grandfathering” provisions will not reduce existing protections.

Supervisory Qualifications

Despite our overall support for the direction of this rulemaking, ASSE does have some significant concerns that we urge OSHA to address in the final rule. We are particularly troubled by OSHA's proposal to require classification of areas and selection of equipment and wiring methods to be performed “under the supervision of a qualified registered professional engineer.” Proposed §1910.307(g)(4). This requirement is unduly restrictive. Qualified licensed electricians and qualified safety professionals should also be permitted to make such classification decisions and equipment and wiring method selections. Conversely, not all professional engineers possess the electrical background to qualify for these tasks. Perhaps including more specific bases of knowledge for these tasks would clarify OSHA's intent while not capriciously excluding qualified individuals from engaging in these functions.

Recognizing ANSI Training Standard

To the extent that this proposed rule envisions new training requirements for workers or others engaged in electrical installation work, ASSE suggests that OSHA reference ANSI Z490.1 among the Appendix A “References for Further Information.” This is a voluntary consensus standard that is beneficial in guiding employers on establishing appropriate training methodologies for its workers and contractors. (A copy of the standard is being sent with this comment for OSHA staff's information only. The standard may not be incorporated into the record.)

Lockout/Tagout Inconsistencies

Among the new code references are some sections affecting or otherwise interfacing with “lockout/tagout” programs (LOTO). ASSE is concerned that there may be some inconsistency between the proposed rule, existing OSHA LOTO requirements (1910.147) and with the ANSI Z244.1-2003 Standard and the ANSI Z244.1-1982 Standard, both of which are currently recognized by OSHA.  (Again, a copy of the standard is being sent with this comment for OSHA staff's information only. The standard may not be incorporated into the record.)

OSHA should adhere to its obligations under OMB Circular A-119 and the Technology Transfer Act by considering referencing ANSI Z244.1-2003 in the final rule, and explaining its decision with respect to whether or not it ultimately chooses to incorporate these consensus standards into the final rule. ASSE endorses referencing the 2003 version of Z244.1 in the reference section of Subpart S, with an appropriate reference as well in the body of the standard. The specific references cover applicability of requirements for disconnecting means (the interface between proposed 1910.303-308 and 1910.147(c)(2)(iii)); and, doors or detachable panels employed for internal access (requirements for mechanical lockouts with a disconnecting means to prevent access until circuit parts are deenergized).         

It is our view that utilizing the most recent version – at least for the revisions covering “Part I” – Installation Safety Requirements – is fairly non-controversial and should achieve improvements in workplace safety at relatively low cost to employers. However, because future section updates are likely to be more hotly disputed by some members of the regulated community, we urge OSHA to ensure that its regulatory impact analysis is thorough and does not rest upon assumptions that could undermine the future rulemaking activity.

Clarifying Regulatory Impact

The preliminary economic and regulatory screening analysis in Section VI of the proposed rule's preamble may warrant reconsideration. Excluded from the economic analysis are employers located in 43 states and additional large cities in the remaining states – about 91 percent of general industry and maritime employers – because the jurisdictions in which such employers operate already require conformity with the 1996 and/or 1999 versions of the NEC. Ignored is the fact that OSHA enforcement does not cover these requirements currently, and it is unclear what level of state and municipal enforcement exists that would support OSHA's conclusion that there is “widespread” industry acceptance of these practices already. Although this may well be correct, it should be supported by quantifiable data.

It cannot be ignored that OSHA's proposed rule will add regulatory burdens for all covered employers because it departs in a few key ways from the NFPA 70E-2000 and/or the 1999 NEC (and from analogous OSHA construction standards). There are also some substantive recordkeeping requirements for those employers electing to use the zone classification system now and in the future. While we emphasize that ASSE is not questioning OSHA's certification of the rule as not having a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities, better quantification of those new burdens in the final rule would be valuable for future reference or in the event that this rule becomes subject to judicial review.

Conclusion

Thank you for providing ASSE with the opportunity to submit its views for the formal record on this important rulemaking initiative. We hope to work cooperatively with the agency in completing Subpart S revisions in the future.

Sincerely,

James "Skipper" Kendrick, CSP
President

 

Click here to go back