Q&A with Schneider Electric: NFPA electrical safety code revisions follow IIoT adoption

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) provides information, codes and standards related to fire and electrical hazards. Because of the hazards to workers present in …


The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) provides information, codes and standards related to fire and electrical hazards. Because of the hazards to workers present in many industrial settings, guidelines set by the NFPA and other organizations should be strictly headed to protect personnel and keep operations running smoothly. Periodically, guidelines change to ensure their relevance in industrial settings, where technological advancements necessitate change. Recently, the NFPA changed its 70E article 130.5H to better reflect the growing adoption of Industrial Internet of Things technologies. Flow Control spoke with Eddie Jones, engineering manager at Schneider Electric, for guidance on what these changes mean for today’s workforce.

What are the NFPA 70E article 130.5H changes and how do they better protect workers?

Prior to the 2018 revisions, NFPA 70E article 130.5H required that printed labels, placed directly on equipment, include detailed safety information like the device’s voltage, current and energy levels, giving workers vital information about electrical equipment. These labels can be small, crowded, difficult to read and do not provide workers with contextual background, such as when the equipment was last serviced. The 2018 revisions have allowed some exceptions to this labeling requirement in some installations, permitting electrical equipment to be outfitted with smart, digital labels such as QR codes and bar codes. These new labels are still required to have basic technical specifications regarding the equipment’s functionality, but when scanned, can also provide workers access to more information that will help them make more informed decisions when working on the equipment.

These new digital labels allow electrical workers and facility managers to connect to cloud-enabled databases where additional device information can be stored. This additional information can include maintenance records, worker notes, full-text instruction manuals and more. In larger facilities like water facilities, this stored information can be useful in further explaining complicated maintenance histories of large and complex equipment. Additionally, digital labels help facility operations teams reduce resources spent on updating labels by allowing information to be changed from the central database. Previously, workers were sent into the field to manually remove and replace outdated printed labels.

How do the revisions respond to changing technology such as broader Industrial Internet of Things and Cloud adoption?

The exceptions that have been worked into the NFPA 70E guidelines around electrical equipment labeling directly tie to the growing adoption of IoT and cloud technologies. As businesses continue to use more IoT-enabled technology, the industry felt compelled to incorporate guidelines around the current technologies. Although cloud and IoT-enabled technologies are not completely new to electrical facilities, there is little regulation around how facility managers can utilize this technology to address safety concerns. Just as cloud and IoT technologies have allowed facilities to expand their capabilities on a practical level, the new labeling guidelines show us these technologies can be used on an informational level, providing facility workers with as much information as possible to make more knowledgeable decisions when it comes to worker safety.

What are the largest obstacles to compliance? Will it be difficult and/or costly for facilities to meet the new requirements?

Complying with the new NFPA 70E labeling guidelines will be relatively easy for facility managers; however, they must ensure they do not overlook compliance with additional guidelines set by the National Electric Code (NEC), American National Standards institute (ANSI) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Each of these organizations has codes and standards that govern a different aspect of the equipment label to ensure that they are effective in providing facility workers with the information that will keep them safe. For instance, while NFPA 70E details the specific information that must be listed on a label, the NEC requires additional label information that must be present in order to pass an inspection. Further, ANSI regulates how the label communicates the information, such as word choice (whether to use "warning," "caution," etc.) and symbols, while the UL dictates label material and durability requirements.

Meeting these new standards will likely also be cost-effective. By migrating label information into a cloud environment, costs associated with printing and manually applying new and removing old labels will be far lower.

Can you share some best practices on how managers can train their employees on the changes? Does a wide skills gap exist?

It is important for facility managers to incorporate the new label guidelines into all aspects of training. In particular, staff will need to be familiar and comfortable with using cloud and IoT-enabled technologies. As with any other aspect of facility management, facility workers will need to have access to and be able to use the tools that help them read the labels and access the stored information. This includes providing workers with bar code and QR code readers and the appropriate training to be able to effectively use them.

How will the changes affect workers on a day-to-day basis?

Facilities managers who choose to take advantage of the exceptions provided in the recent revision are empowered to include more information that is important to the workers handling electrical equipment day to day. The digital labels will provide more information regarding arc flash risks, maintenance records, equipment performance information, training manuals and more. Allowing this information to be held at the tip of facility workers’ fingertips can make these labels a powerful tool for employers and employees. Workers will have access to as much information as they need to make the best decisions around how to operate a device, provide maintenance to the equipment, or update or modernize it — all in a safe and efficient manner.

Do the revisions affect one industry more than others? Who is affected most and how?

The new exception is limited to supervised industrial installations where conditions of maintenance and engineering supervision ensure that only qualified persons monitor and service the system. The benefit could be realized quickly for larger facilities such as water plants, hospital, military installations, oil and gas plants and campus sites. These types of facilities are equipment-dense, and thus they have a large number of labels. Remote facilities could also realize a benefit from this exception. Once transitioned to the digital labels, teams within these larger facilities can save time and money by updating the labels from a central database (versus manually label replacement). Additionally, the workers who operate the various equipment will have a breadth of information on-hand on which to base their decisions. Smaller facilities will still benefit because the digital labels hold more pertinent information for facility workers to access. Additionally, industries that use remote facilities, such as oil and gas, will benefit since they will not have to send people directly to the facility to update or change labels. Much of the costs associated with label maintenance have to do with updating and replacing older labels with more current ones, and having a digital label with the capability to be updated from a central location greatly reduces costs associated with label replacement.

Eddie Head Shot 2 150x150

Graphic courtesy of Schneider Electric


Eddie Jones, P.E., is the national business development manager for Schneider Electric Engineering Services based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His major responsibilities include promoting arc flash awareness through seminars and training classes and assisting corporate customers with the development and maintenance of arc flash Initiatives and Electrical Safety Programs. Jones is a 20-year veteran of the electrical distribution industry and has worked in as a power distribution system consultant, product applications engineer and product marketing. He has authored or co-authored several technical papers is a member of IEEE, NFPA and is a registered Professional Engineer.

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