The Human Performance Standard in NFPA 70E (2018)
By: Rich Gojdics
In electrical safety, mistakes happen. It’s not something people like thinking of, but it’s a fact. We’re human, and as the saying goes, “to err is human.”
The goal, of course, is to put workers in scenarios in which a mistake—something as simple as a dropped tool or a worker applying too much torque—doesn’t cause damage. Human error is a common root cause of electrical incidents and the most recent edition of NFPA 70E has included Informational Annex Q as a way to prepare for this.
The Human Element of Electrical Safety
Many elements go into completing any electrical project, which means that many things can arise that make a job become unsafe. High stress, unfamiliar situations, lack of attention, worker fatigue, the surrounding environment, and human nature itself can all affect overall human performance in the workplace in one way or another.
Understanding Human Error
According to a 2014 presentation by human performance expert Shane Bush, unwanted outcomes are 80% the result of human error and 20% the result of equipment failures. However, of this human error, it’s noted that only 30% of it is the individual, but rather inherent organizational weaknesses that cause error. Among the key facts about human error:
- It thrives in every industry
- It is a major contributor to events and unwanted outcomes
- It is costly, adverse to safety and hinders productivity
- The greatest cause of human error is weaknesses in the organization, not lack of skill or knowledge
- Error rates can never be reduced to zero
- Consequences of errors can be eliminated
The Introduction of Human Performance into NFPA 70E
What started as a topic discussed by safety consultants for years, human performance recently gained enough traction to be included as an informational note in NFPA 70E (2018). Written with the understanding that mistakes do happen, Annex Q addresses human performance and factors affecting the workplace, electrical safety, and job performance.
While not officially enshrined in the standard, rather written as an Informational Annex, this note is based on the following principles:
- People are fallible. Even the best trained and knowledgeable people can make a mistake.
- High hazard situations are recognizable, predictable, and can be managed to prevent accidents.
- Individual human behavior is influenced by processes and values.
- A high level of performance can be attained through positive reinforcement from management and fellow workers.
- Understanding what causes accidents, learning from prior incidents and ongoing training helps to prevent future incidents.
Four Steps to Understand Human Error
Additionally, Annex Q addresses the fact that workers may become too familiar with common tasks and become less observant to the real risk still prevalent in some situations. Such perceived behavior can cause what is commonly called "unintended blindness" and/or insensitivity to the hazards of the job.
To address these human characteristics, a "qualified person" will need to be trained in these factors:
- Identify possible causes of human error
- How human performance can affect job performance
- Using human performance tools provided in Informational Annex Q
- Completing a job site review of human performance tools used
Human Performance Annex Complements Hierarchy of Controls
To address human error fully, you must consider organizational, leader, and individual performance, understanding that no control is infallible.
In the Annex, authors note three primary risk abatement controls—engineered, administrative, and PPE—considered complementary to the hierarchy of controls.
Notably, the hierarchy of controls is something moved from informational note to mandatory text in 2018 and per NFPA 70E Sec. 110.3(H)(3), the six steps are as follows:
- Elimination: Removing the hazard entirely
- Substitution: Replacing a severe hazard with a less severe one
- Engineering Controls: Replacing equipment or changing the work environment to separate workers from a hazard.
- Awareness: Educating workers on the hazards and providing information on making safe decisions.
- Administrative Controls: Developing formal procedures and processes for working safely under anticipated conditions.
- Personal Protective Equipment: Equipping workers with clothing and equipment designed to reduce risk and limit the severity of injuries.
Human Performance: Part of a Larger Culture of Safety
Mistakes are simply a reality. They will happen. The goal of Annex Q is to look for ways to reduce the likelihood and the consequences of these mistakes by thinking through why they happen and making necessary adjustments.
That said, taking steps to address human performance challenges is a key element of a larger culture of electrical safety. As noted in our whitepaper, the goal of a safety culture is to instill a set of values, beliefs, and behaviors for workers that prioritize safety.
One of the biggest challenges to any safety initiative is understanding. In fact, a majority of electrical injuries and fatalities are unqualified or untrained workers—those who have likely never received the full training of a qualified professional and who have not read a page of NFPA 70E.
Developing a Culture of Electrical Safety explores the differences between a compliant program and a true culture of safety while offering tips that can make your people safer. Preview this guide below and download it here.
Enespro PPE: Your Best Last Line of Defense
We’re not here to say that electrical PPE is better than other more effective methods such as elimination, substitution, or engineering controls, but we can confidently say we are your best, most comfortable last line of defense.
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