Arc Bites: Energized Work – Great Power, Great Responsibility

Years ago, remembers William Watson – Vice President of Safety at Miller Electric and Chairman of the NECA Large Contractor Safety Group, NFPA 70E required electricians to send copies of paperwork for completed energized work to their employers for retention. In those days, William often observed inaccuracies in the paperwork – which was especially concerning since the work had already been done. In 2012, the standard was updated to require Safety’s review and signature ahead of time.

Join the group for an engaging and informative discussion around energized work –  avoiding it whenever you can, recognizing the hazard if energized work is justified, shedding light on when you need an energized work permit (hint: more often than some might think!), highlighting the important role energized work permits play in challenging the status quo and keeping you safe, and underscoring the paradigm shift that starts with each electrician in the field: 


The group’s discussion highlights some important wisdom about energized work:

Don’t work energized if you don’t have to.

“Commerce collapses without electricians…we can’t exist without [electricity],” William Watson said – a good thing for electricians and their employers. But with great power comes great responsibility – and great potential risk. “There has to be controls in place,” he said. William has seen firsthand that energized work procedures and AR / FR clothing reduce the risk of injury to its lowest possible level. “Our job is dangerous even if you do it right. Why would you want to press [your luck]?” he said. There are some risks that just aren’t worth taking.

If you must work energized, recognize the hazard, complete an energized work permit, and wear appropriate PPE.

Since 2012 NFPA 70E has required Safety’s review and signature on energized work permits in advance. Surprisingly, it’s not those who frequently submit energized work permits that concern safety experts like William; it’s the electricians who rarely submit any paperwork. That’s because electricians regularly complete tasks that meet NFPA 70E’s definition for energized work. As an electrician himself, arc flash survivor Brandon Schroeder nodded in agreement, mentioning that electricians use their voltage meters frequently on the job and even testing voltage or for absence of voltage requires PPE and appropriate precautions for energized work. Energized work permits force you to consider what you’re doing. Is there sufficient reason to work energized? Are you prepared with the right PPE for the task? This is important for compliance with NFPA 70E – and critical to your safety.  

If you think you’re not working energized, think again.

As master electrician, arc flash survivor, and corporate safety trainer Jason Brozen put it during the group’s conversation, “there are two scenarios: you’re working energized, or you’re working energized.” De-energizing and re-energizing both require energized work. In fact, six of the seven steps to achieving an electrically safe work condition require PPE. Therefore, you can’t do un-energized work without first working energized. But sadly, experts estimate 30% of arc flash injuries stem from misconceptions about de-energized work. Don’t let this happen to you! Check out Arc Week season 3 episode 5 for more on the dangerous myth of de-energized work.

It’s worth the time to do it right.

In his role, William has encountered electricians who don’t want to take the time to fill out the paperwork for energized work – viewing it instead as a hassle. But those same electricians are being paid by the hour. “Slow down, be deliberate,” he said – you are paid for the extra time it takes to do a job carefully, correctly, and in a way that protects life and property. “We’ve proven that you can do the work safely. Why wouldn’t you?”

Be the change.

“It’s pretty low risk since I’m smarter than this hazard.” That’s what arc flash survivor Jason Brozen shared that he had come to believe about energized work in Arc Week season 4 episode 3, and unfortunately William has seen this mindset in the industry. Together we can change this dangerous status quo. Rather than doing what you’ve always done, take a step back and reevaluate your process. If you’ve worked energized when you haven’t had to, if you’ve cut corners with your PPE, if you’ve sidestepped the energized work permitting process, remember: it’s never too late to start doing the right thing.

Do you have a flash fire – rather than an arc flash – hazard?
The hazards may differ, but the valuable lessons in this series are relevant to workers in oil and gas and other industries that use PPE to protect workers from thermal hazards. Don’t miss it!


Series: Arc Bites

Arc Bites condenses in-depth dicussions into short, focused episodes no more than two minutes long and provides concise, insightful content, offering practical takeaways on Arc Flash safety in easily disgestible bites.

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