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.