Chapter 16:
Rules, Codes and Legislation


Arc flash is a global hazard and countries continue to develop safety practices to protect their workers. In Europe, arc flash requirements are much less prescriptive than in the United States and Canada. That is true when it comes to specific electrical codes of practice such as the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 70E “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace” in the USA and CSA Z462, “Workplace Electrical Safety Standard” in Canada. Having consulted for companies that are US/Canadian owned, I have come across lots of situations where there may be head office directives to comply with NFPA 70E. Experience has shown that accommodations can be made to ensure compliance with local law and there is some very useful information in NFPA 70E if used with caution.

There is also a perception that there is a greater need for justifying work on or near live conductors in Europe than in the US. I would have agreed to this statement up until about 5 years ago. I co-presented a paper called “A European View of Arc Flash Hazards and Electrical Safety” to 500+ delegates at the IEEE Electrical Safety Workshop in Daytona Beach in Florida back in 2012, which effectively showcased a risk assessment approach based upon the legal requirements within the UK and Europe. After that conference I was asked to peer review a paper which approached the risk from ALARP principles. I am pleased to say that the US/Canadian approach has moved much more towards European risk assessment methodology since then.

Much of the law governing the arc flash hazard in Europe comes out of European directives with specific areas such as management of health and safety, use of work equipment, signs and signals and personal protective equipment directives. Within the framework of these directives, member countries pass their own legislation. Some legislation can be fairly unique such as Great Britain’s Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which went into effect on April 6, 2008. This clarifies the criminal liabilities of companies including large organizations where serious failures in the management of health and safety result in a fatality. The following gives an overview on the various European directives and standards and there is also information on how the directives are represented within Irish and UK law. Although the UK has left the EU, there are no plans to overhaul the present legislation that is based upon these directives, that the UK helped to draft, in respect of electrical safety. Should that change, this guide will be updated.

16.1 Europe - Electrical Safety

There is no doubt that firm prescriptive guidance for arc flash in Europe is not as advanced as in the United States where the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace is in existence. Naturally this does not mean that the problem of arc flash does not exist nor is it unacknowledged, it is more a case of an approach to hazard and risk that is different.

16.1.1 European Union

The European Union consists of 27 member countries with over 500 million citizens speaking 23 different official languages and providing for over a quarter of the global economy in terms of GDP. Laws that are passed as regulations or directives within the EU are mandatory across all member states and form the starting point for electrical safety compliance.

16.1.2 Framework Directive

In 1989, what would be known as the “Framework Directive” European Council Directive 89/391/EEC (Workplace Health and Safety Directive) was passed which introduced measures to encourage improvements to the safety and health of workers. A cornerstone of this directive is risk assessment which means that there are no prescriptive standards covering electrical safety, especially arc flash, and certainly no link from the hazard directly into arc flash PPE.

Directive 89/391/EEC creates an obligation on behalf of the employer to assess the level of risk involved in the workplace and the effectiveness of the precautions in place. For electrical work, all hazards should be considered, including the arc flash hazard and not purely shock, as is often the case with many European companies. Arc flash risk assessment for workers who operate in proximity to or on energized electrical equipment, cables and overhead lines, is an essential part of electrical safety management. Electrical work has to be carried out with conductors de-energized and isolated wherever possible and there is a very low tolerance for live working in many European countries.

As a result, many manufacturing plants restrict live working to inspection, diagnostic testing and commissioning purposes. There are, however, many tasks that require working either on, or in close proximity to, energized equipment. Even then it should also be acknowledged that the process of de-energization often requires exposure to the hazard through interactions such as switching, racking and testing of equipment.