NEC + OSHA Electrical Panel Clearance Requirements

    Reading Time: 6 minutes

    Electrical panels are an essential component in any facility. They bring all the electrical lines into one centralized location so that the main power source can feed them. This is necessary because it is not practical to run dozens, or even hundreds, of different electrical lines directly into the main circuit. It also helps by segmenting the power off in a way that prevents a full power outage when there is an issue in one area.

    Of course, this means having a lot of different wires and other electrical equipment located in one area. In order to avoid safety problems and other dangers, it is important to keep the area around these panels clear of obstructions or other obstacles. Having an electrical panel clearance policy in place is very important not only for practical reasons, but also in order to comply with various regulations. Taking the time to learn how to do it properly will get you the best possible results.

    Understanding NEC Panel Clearance Requirements

    When looking into electrical panel clearance safety, you need to start by looking at the requirements put in place by the national electric code, or NEC. The relevant section of the national electric code here is NEC 110.26. This set of code identifies how much clearance is needed around any type of electrical panel based on a number of different factors.

    One of the main things that the NEC 110.26 specifies is that all electrical panels must have enough room around them that someone working on the equipment will have the room to safely access everything they need. This is necessary for all types of work including examination of the electrical panel, making adjustments to the electrical panel, servicing the electrical panel, and of course, performing maintenance on the electrical panel.

    The specific electrical panel clearance requirements will depend on what area you are looking at, and how much voltage there is going through the panel. Most people think only about the area directly in front of the electrical panel. While this is the most commonly accessed area, it is often necessary to also have space above the panel and on each side as well. This means you cannot place machinery or other equipment in the space around an electrical panel without making sure that it meets the NEC working clearance requirements.

    In general, any electrical panel that has 0 to 150 volts going through it needs to have at least 36’’ of clearance around it. Panels with 151 to 600 volts should have 42’’ of clearance around it. This NEC working clearance will provide not only the person working on the equipment with room, but also their tools.

    OSHA Electrical Panel Clearance Requirements

    One of the most common questions people have when setting standards in a facility for electrical panel clearance requirements is what OSHA says. Fortunately, the OSHA electrical panel clearance requirements are taken directly from the NEC. This means once you understand the NEC panel clearance requirements, you will also know those that OSHA puts forth.

    Following the 110.26 NEC standards is fairly easy. It is also easy to verify. This means if you have an inspection, you can count on the fact that the OSHA electrical panel clearance will be measured by the OSHA inspector to make sure that you are in compliance.

    What About NFPA 70e Electrical Panel Clearance?

    Another safety focused agency is the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA. The NFPA is focused largely on reducing the risk of fires from occurring so that everyone can remain safe. Since electrical fires are one of the  biggest risks that a facility can face, it should come as no surprise to find that the NFPA has requirements in this area.

    Once again, however, the NFPA 70e electrical panel clearance requirements will match those of the NEC and of OSHA. Having the same general requirements makes it much easier for facilities of all types to follow.

    Another nice thing about having these standardized requirements is that they apply across national boarders. While OSHA is only followed in the United States, NFPA is a non-governmental organization. They are respected around the world and many countries follow their recommendations when creating their own rules and regulations. Even in countries that do not have strict regulations when it comes to electrical panel clearance will often voluntarily choose to follow the recommendations found in NFPA 70e.

    What Constitutes Clearance Around Electrical Panels?

    At first glance many people would read the NEC electrical panel clearance requirements and assume that it simply means that you cannot put any additional equipment within the set amount of space. The fact is, however, that it goes well beyond that.

    In order to remain in compliance with the relevant regulations, you cannot put anything in the space around an electrical panel. This means you cannot stack inventory in this area, you cannot park high-lows or other vehicles in the area, and you cannot even put temporary items in the area.

    The area must not only remain completely clear of items at all times, but it also needs to be accessible. This means that you cannot leave an area around the electrical panel that is clear, but have access to the area blocked off by stacks of boxes or other items.

    To put it simply, you must have a policy in place that will ensure that any electrical panel in your facility can be easily accessed and worked on at all times. If there is anything that would prevent this or make it more dangerous, the chances are that you are in violation of the regulations and could get cited for it during an inspection.

    Preventing Obstructions Around Electrical Panels

    Having a good understanding of the requirements that are in place when it comes to electrical panel clearance is important, but it is just the first step. It is just as important to create your own set of policies and procedures to ensure that you are always in compliance with the various regulations. This is not only important for avoiding getting fined for violating the requirements, but also for ensuring your facility is as safe as possible.

    A good start is to make sure that you have a written policy that everyone in the facility is aware of that makes it clear that inventory and other items may not be placed around any electrical panel.

    Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to remember exactly how much distance from a panel things can be. Even if they know how much room in inches is required, they may not be able to properly estimate how much room they are leaving when placing items in the area.

    One of the easiest and most effective ways to make sure that nobody places anything in the area around your electrical panels is to mark the area with floor marking tape. Measuring off the required distance around the electrical panels and putting down floor markings will make it extremely easy to see exactly where things can and cannot be placed.

    Some facilities will simply place the tape in a square around the panel to show the necessary distance that needs to be kept clear. Others will place the square around the area and then use diagonal stripes of floor markings to fill out the area, which makes it even more clear that nothing should be put in that place. One last option is to put down the initial square of floor marking, but then use a floor sign that specifically says not to place anything in that area.

    All of these options will use effective visual communication standards to make sure that nothing is placed in the area directly around your electrical panels. Most facilities will already have floor marking tape on hand since it is one of the most commonly used safety items around. The tape can be placed down in the proper spots to make sure you get immediate results.

    Performing Internal Inspections

    One last thing you can do to make sure that you are always in compliance with the relevant electrical panel clearance requirements is to perform your own internal inspections. Your safety manager or other designated individual should have a list of where all the electrical panels in the facility are located. On a regular basis, they should go out and inspect the areas around them to make sure nothing has been placed where it should not go.

    If anything is found in a spot that is too close to the panel, the items can be moved right away. Of course, it is also important to try to determine who placed the item there so that they can be provided with the relevant training to ensure it does not happen again.

    Taking the time to make sure that nothing is in these areas will help to avoid any type of penalties that may be issued if you are inspected by OSHA or other agencies. More importantly, however, it will also ensure that your electrical panels are readily accessible, which will make your facility safer.

     

    What is the National Electrical Code?

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    The National Electrical Code, or NEC, is a commonly used standard for installing various types of electrical equipment. It is one of the older standards that are still in use today, though it has been updated and changed many times over the years. If your workplace installs or maintains any type of electrical equipment, you will likely have to be familiar with the NEC in order to be compliant.

    History of the National Electrical Code

    The NEC was originally published back in 1897. Due to the regularly changing technologies covered by the NEC, a new update is published every three years. The most recent update came out in 2020. The organization that creates and publishes the NEC consists of many different panels that work together to determine what changes are needed with each release.

    Today the NEC is a part of the National Fire Code series. This set of standards is released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which is a well-known trade association. The NFPA also sponsors the work that is done on the NEC.

    Where the NEC is Used

    The NEC is primarily an American organization, but the standards that they develop are used in countries around the world. The NEC standards are not legally required to be followed on their own. Some of their best practices, however, are also incorporated into various OSHA and other regulations, in which case it may be required to follow. In general, however, companies follow the National Electrical Code standards because they have been shown to be so effective over the years.

    While these standards are not technically laws, companies may be obligated to follow them in some situations. For example, if a building company fails to follow well known standards (such as those published by the NEC) and something happens that results in the death or injury of a party, they could be held responsible. In some cases, the company could be following best practices published by another organization, but that is not very common. The standards released by the NEC are the most commonly used, and therefore the standard that is most often going to be cited if a lawsuit occurs.

    Learning and Following the NEC

    Companies that need to follow the NEC will need to understand what sections of it will apply to them. The NEC is published as a book, which is approximately 1000 pages. It is also available electronically for viewing. Given how much information is contained in each version of the NEC, it is easy to see that most companies will only have to worry about specific sections. Determining what requirements apply to your business is an important first step in remaining compliant. The set of codes is broken up into nine chapters, each of which will contain information on a variety of different specific subjects.

    Once you have determined what sections apply to the type of work you perform, you will want to provide training to all of your employees who need it. This training will show employees how to safely work with the relevant types of electrical equipment. In most cases, the employees will know the basics of how to do the work but will just need to be shown any specific processes that need to be used in order to be compliant.

    Refresher training should also be given to all employees on a regular basis. Of course, every three years when a new version of the NEC is released, new training should be developed and provided to employees. Most organizations and even governmental agencies will not immediately move to the latest version of these standards upon release. Instead, they will take some time to learn more about them before developing the right training processes and putting them into place in their production environments.

    Why Follow the NEC?

    While some of the NEC standards are requirements in various areas, the vast majority of companies follow these best practices because they are proven to work well. For over 120 years now the NEC has been seen as the organization that publishes the best electrical standards in the industry. Long before there was OSHA or other safety focused governmental agencies, the NEC was followed by companies because of the benefits it provides.

    Even long ago, companies recognized the fact that when working with electrical equipment it is important to put safety first. This not only means that when you are installing the equipment you want employees to be safe, but also that the equipment works safely for years to come. The NEC has helped make it easier for companies to avoid various problems and stay up to date with the latest electrical equipment requirements. Today, the NEC continues to keep up with all the rapidly advancing electrical systems and provide excellent information to companies that work with it.

    Wire and Cable Management

    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    Wire and Cable ManagementAn important, but often overlooked, way to ensure effective electrical safety practices is to have a cable management system. It’s important to keep wires and cables untangled and orderly so that workers can understand the system they’re dealing with and avoid accidents. Not only will cable management improve the safety of your workplace, it can make for faster repairs, a better organized operation, and can actually save you money.

    When you have a large amount of cables, you may need to use some other tools to stay organized and manageable. Zip ties are commonly used to hold cables together in place, keeping the cables from becoming a giant tangled mess. Another frequently used tool is a cable mount. These mounts sometimes feature a zip tie and often have an adhesive backing to attach to desks, walls, or other surfaces.

    Identifying wires with cable wraps is the most efficient way to ensure your wires are clearly marked. Instead of using small, handwritten labels, you can easily create your own cable wraps with an industrial label printer to make sure wires are marked with legible, printed text. The information included can be words, pictograms, or numbers that correspond to the cable management system. These wire markings make completing electrical work in your facility safer, easier, and more efficient.

    Electricity is present in nearly every step in manufacturing, construction, and most other industrial settings. Electricity-related accidents are also some of the most deadly and damaging hazards that can occur in the workplace. An incorrectly labeled wire can end in tragic catastrophe; therefore, it’s crucial to abide by the wire color code standards set forth by the proper agencies in your country, and good wire/cable management.

    Whether you’re building a toolshed in your backyard or embarking on a million- dollar build at your facility, wiring properly could be the difference between life and death. Following the wire color codes ensure those working around live energy can do their work safely and efficiently. Color conveys a lot of information about wires, so it’s critical that workers have a basic understanding of wire color codes before they do anything energy-related.

    Good wire marking practices is the cornerstone to a strong safety program, so it’s important for you to take every precaution necessary to protect employees from accidents. Spend time to develop and implement a comprehensive wire and cable management program and be sure to train employees how to best utilize the system.