NFPA 70B codification is a much-needed development for industrial safety

The new NFPA 70B standard will change electrical equipment maintenance, and understanding the standard and how it fits with others will help facility managers achieve compliance and build a greater culture of safety

By Douglas Beck September 27, 2023
Courtesy: Schneider Electric


Learning Objectives

NFPA 70B insights

In January 2023 NFPA enacted a significant change, officially adopting NFPA 70B: Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance as a standard, making 70B compulsory. Issuance of 70B as a standard immediately empowers authorities having jurisdiction, whether Occupational Health and Safety Administration or otherwise, to enforce the newly created and/or updated provisions as overseers of compliance.

Changes to the standard will reinforce a culture of safety and preventive maintenance in facilities and reflect the growing importance of digitized electrical maintenance for industrial plant operators.

Safe operating regulations now include 70B mandate

NFPA 70B is the third piece of the safety puzzle. NFPA 70: National Electrical Code governs safe equipment installation. NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace outlines how facilities should safely operate electrical equipment, however 70E thresholds for worker safety are only valid if the equipment is working properly, which is where 70B comes in.

Electrical fires and other safety issues tend to happen during maintenance, which puts systems in abnormal configurations. Transitioning 70B from a recommendation to a standard should help mitigate some of the risks inherent to maintaining equipment by improving system documentation and working harmoniously with the facility’s electrical safe work policy. The change addresses current industry trends, including aging equipment, increasingly complex power systems and the loss of expertise from the industry.

Evolving industrial environments require preventive maintenance

Even properly installed equipment degrades once it is in place, especially if maintenance is irregular or done poorly. Equipment manufacturer maintenance guidelines have always taken precedence, however there are many power system assets that lack clear maintenance practices from the original equipment manufacturer or have been obsoleted and are no longer supported.

At the same time, power systems have become increasingly complex. More industrial organizations are installing microgrids, backup generation and multiple power sources, coupled with digital systems to control this equipment. Each new addition to the power system represents another potential point of failure.

Standards like 70B are emerging at a time when maintenance staff is retiring en masse. New hires do not always possess the requisite experience or skill level to replace departing knowledge. The result is that where facilities once had many specialized maintenance engineers, they may now have only one person responsible for everything from the loading dock to the microgrid.

Enacting 70B as mandatory introduces clear guidance for a robust documentation and maintenance plan that provides a backstop to industry talent loss and increasing system complexity.

Figure 1: Proper maintenance can increase employee safety, machine uptime and process efficiency.

Figure 1: Proper maintenance can increase employee safety, machine uptime and process efficiency. Courtesy: Schneider Electric

Changes to NFPA 70B standardize assessments, tighten requirements

The new standard clarifies documentation requirements for electrical maintenance programs. Now organizations must have a written, documented plan and identify specially trained coordinators to manage said plan. Organizations must also audit their programs every five years to ensure the programs still apply and inspect and assess all equipment annually.

A crucial part of the mandated documentation is a system one-line diagram and power system protection and arc flash studies, which must be kept up to date. Having a well-documented system is a foundation for a safe, reliable system. It ensures workers planning maintenance actions and securing equipment for maintenance are fully aware of the risks associated with their work and/or the potential impact to the system the activity poses.

Electrical maintenance intervals and procedures manufacturers’ recommendations take precedence. However, if the documentation no longer exists or procedures are unclear, operators must then assess their equipment per NFPA 70B, using three factors: physical condition, criticality of that equipment to the system and the environment that equipment is in. Each factor receives a score and maintenance schedules depend on the lowest score received in any individual category.

For example, if during an assessment a low-voltage circuit breaker scores a 1 (highest score) on every factor, then the plant operator can maintain the equipment in longer intervals potentially up to 60 months. If the breaker enclosure is found not properly sealed correctly or has signs of other damage or moisture, it may receive a score of 2 or lower, which could require maintenance every 12-36 months.

Figure 2: Partnering with outside experts can help optimize maintenance procedures and NFPA 70B: Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance compliance.

Figure 2: Partnering with outside experts can help optimize maintenance procedures and NFPA 70B: Standard for Electrical Equipment Maintenance compliance. Courtesy: Schneider Electric

Digitization and partnerships can bolster NFPA 70B compliance

The NFPA’s decision to transform the 70B recommended practice into a standard enhances the need to create and maintain a culture of safety. Adhering to its requirements for standardized maintenance procedures should help prevent arc flash and other incidents in industrial settings. Facility operators can and likely should layer on additional safeguards, available through digitization and partnerships.

Digitizing maintenance programs will make life easier for operators. Tools, such as continuous thermal monitoring platforms, provide near real-time view of asset health to help identify potential problem spots outside of scheduled maintenance. Converting single-line diagrams to living digital twins streamlines documentation updates, a commonly neglected part of maintenance programs.

Organizations may also want to consult an independent expert. Acting as a sort of wealth adviser for electrical power equipment, independent experts have deep knowledge of these systems, understand what they are looking at and how to assess each situation. Experts can apply the needs of different facilities to the recommendations, ensuring facilities are optimally deploying a maintenance plan that optimizes uptime, operational cost and safety.

Author Bio: Douglas Beck is Leader-Consulting & Digital Services at Schneider Electric.