Codes and standards are evolving, as is the tech that helps keep workers safe.
Whether at home or at work, technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting the lives of everyone, including people who use or install electrical systems. Technology in the electrical industry is evolving rapidly, and safety rules must evolve with it or they risk becoming obsolete and even irrelevant.
As the next edition of the NFPA 70 National Electrical Code (NEC) is being crafted and the next edition of NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace is being revised and developed, new technology will drive new codes and standards. It will also drive improved workplace safety in other ways.
Here are a few areas where change is happening and rules must keep pace.
The electrical installation code that electrical contractors design and build to is morphing to cover new technologies while recognizing legacy methods and techniques. New rules keep the code relevant and adoptable by jurisdictions responsible for enforcing it.
A good example is new NEC rules being developed to address lower energy values that can be used in calculated loads for electrical services. Lighting is one of the biggest loads in many commercial and industrial occupancies. With national energy codes being legally adopted to address mandatory reduction in energy use, it stands to reason that the NEC include the reduced minimum watts-per-square-foot values for load calculations in designs that incorporate new lighting and systems that employ LED or other energy efficient technologies.
Another example relates to the IoT, which is seeing new connected devices and equipment all the time. Preventing hacking and disruption remain critical, but the challenges of doing so are getting more complicated. With Power over Ethernet (PoE) cable (such as Category 5 or 6 cables) being used to connect electronic devices, minimum requirements in electrical codes and standards must keep up if the code is to continue to serve the purpose of the NEC, which is the protection of persons and property from the hazards arising from electricity use.
The electrical codes and standards will be in a state of flux as this evolution plays out. These are no longer your grandfather’s electrical codes and safety rules.
Tech tools for increased worker safety
While the electrical installation rules are evolving, the tech tools for increasing safety in the workplace are, too. For example, it is not uncommon to see a QR code on a piece of equipment that is linked to complete safety instructions for using the equipment.
Many organizations are already using artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) to enhance safety. Virtual reality allows for safety training and instruction in a simulation (virtual) environment. This is also important for people involved with assisting contractors with tools and rental equipment. Safety training and the documentation of that training are extremely important aspects of providing a contractor with equipment for the job.
In the not too distant future, it is foreseeable that contractors will be able to rent or purchase robots to assist with delivering some their services. It’s happening now within the facilities of progressive organizations. In the hierarchy of risk control as provided in NFPA 70E-2018, one of the six elements is substitution. A robot or remote-controlled equipment can be substituted in tasks that normally expose humans to extreme hazards and risks, such as electric shock, arc-flash or arc-blast events.
Soon autonomous vehicles will commonly share the roads with human drivers, and remote-controlled vehicles will be used in numerous applications. Just think of what benefits the technology of tomorrow will deliver and the ways in which it will affect our lives. One thing for sure is that safety must not be compromised, whether using new technologies or old.
Michael J. Johnston is executive director of standards and safety for the National Electrical Contractors Association.