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Construction Safety and Health
Outreach Program
U.S. Department of Labor
OSHA Office of Training and Education
May 1996


Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, exposing employees to such dangers as electric shock, electrocution, fires, and explosions.

Experts in electrical safety have traditionally looked toward the widely used National Electrical Code (NEC) for help in the practical safeguarding of persons from these hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognized the important role of the NEC in defining basic requirements for safety in electrical installations by including the entire 1971 NEC by reference in Subpart K of 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1926 (Construction Safety and Health Standards).

In a final rule dated July 11, 1986, OSHA updated, simplified, and clarified Subpart K, 29 CFR 1926. The revisions serve these objectives:

  • NEC requirements that directly affect employees in construction workplaces have been placed in the text of the OSHA standard, eliminating the need for the NEC to be incorporated by reference.
  • Certain requirements that supplemented the NEC have been integrated in the new format.
  • Performance language is utilized and superfluous specifications omitted and changes in technology accommodated.

In addition, the standard is easier for employers and employees to use and understand. Also, the OSHA revision of the electrical standards has been made more flexible, eliminating the need for constant revision to keep pace with the NEC, which is revised every three years.


The NEC provisions directly related to employee safety are included in the body of the standard itself—making it unnecessary to continue the adoption by reference of the NEC. Subpart K is divided into four major groups plus a general definitions section:

I. Installation Safety Requirements

Part I of the standard is very comprehensive. Only some of the major topics and brief summaries of these requirements are included in this discussion.

Sections 29 CFR 1926.402 through 1926.408 contain installation safety requirements for electrical equipment and installations used to provide electric power and light at the jobsite. These sections apply to installations, both temporary and permanent, used on the jobsite; but they do not apply to existing permanent installations that were in place before the construction activity commenced.

If an installation is made in accordance with the 1984
National Electrical Code, it will be considered to be in compliance
with Sections 1926.403 through 1926.408, except for:

1926.404(b)(1)              Ground-fault protection for employees

1926.405(a)(2)(ii)(E)      Protection of lamps on temporary wiring

1926.405(a)(2)(ii)(F)      Suspension of temporary lights by cords

1926.405(a)(2)(ii)(G)      Portable lighting used in wet or conductive locations

1926.405(a)(2)(ii)(J)       Extension cord sets and flexible cords


The electrical conductors and equipment used by the employer must be approved.

Examination, Installation, and Use of Equipment

The employer must ensure that electrical equipment is free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Safety of equipment must be determined by the following:

  • Suitability for installation and use in conformity with the provisions of the standard. Suitability of equipment for an identified purpose may be evidenced by a listing, by labeling, or by certification for that identified purpose.
  • Mechanical strength and durability. For parts designed to enclose and protect other equipment, this includes the adequacy of the protection thus provided.
  • Electrical insulation.
  • Heating effects under conditions of use.
  • Arcing effects.
  • Classification by type, size, voltage, current capacity, and specific use.
  • Other factors that contribute to the practical safeguarding of employees who use or are likely to come in contact with the equipment.


Live parts of electric equipment operating at 50 volts or more must be guarded against accidental contact. Guarding of live parts must be accomplished as follows:

  • Location in a cabinet, room, vault, or similar enclosure accessible only to qualified persons.
  • Use of permanent, substantial partitions or screens to exclude unqualified persons.
  • Location on a suitable balcony, gallery, or platform elevated and arranged to exclude unqualified persons.
  • Elevation of eight feet or more above the floor.

Entrance to rooms and other guarded locations containing exposed live parts must be marked with conspicuous warning signs forbidding unqualified persons to enter.

Electric installations that are over 600 volts and that are open to unqualified persons must be made with metal-enclosed equipment or enclosed in a vault or area controlled by a lock. In addition, equipment must be marked with appropriate caution signs.

Overcurrent Protection

The following requirements apply to overcurrent protection of circuits rated 600 volts, nominal, or less.

  • Conductors and equipment must be protected from overcurrent in accordance with their ability to safely conduct current and the conductors must have sufficient current-carrying capacity to carry the load.
  • Overcurrent devices must not interrupt the continuity of the grounded conductor unless all conductors of the circuit are opened simultaneously, except for motor-running overload protection.
  • Overcurrent devices must be readily accessible and not located where they could create an employee safety hazard by being exposed to physical damage or located in the vicinity of easily ignitable material.
  • Fuses and circuit breakers must be so located or shielded that employees will not be burned or otherwise injured by their operation, e.g., arcing.

Grounding of Equipment Connected by Cord and Plug

Exposed noncurrent-carrying metal parts of cord- and plug-connected equipment that may become energized must be grounded in the following situations:

  • When in a hazardous (classified) location.
  • When operated at over 150 volts to ground, except for guarded motors and metal frames of electrically heated appliances if the appliance frames are permanently and effectively insulated from ground.
  • When one of the types of equipment listed below. But see Item 6 for exemption.

      Hand held motor-operated tools. Cord- and plug-connected equipment used in damp or wet locations or by employees standing on the ground or on metal floors or working inside metal tanks or boilers. Portable and mobile X-ray and associated equipment. Tools likely to be used in wet and/or conductive locations. Portable hand lamps. [Exemption] Tools likely to be used in wet and/or conductive locations need not be grounded if supplied through an isolating transformer with an ungrounded secondary of not over 50 volts. Listed or labeled portable tools and appliances protected by a system of double insulation, or its equivalent, need not be grounded. If such a system is employed, the equipment must be distinctively marked to indicate that the tool or appliance uses a system of double insulation.

II. Safety-Related Work Practices

Protection of Employees

The employer must not permit an employee to work near any part of an electric power circuit that the employee could contact in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against shock by de-energizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means.

Where the exact location of underground electric power lines is unknown, employees using jack hammers or hand tools that may contact a Even before work is begun, the employer must determine by inquiry, observation, or instruments where any part of an exposed or concealed energized electric power circuit is located. This is necessary because a person, tool or machine could come into physical or electrical contact with the electric power circuit.

The employer is required to advise employees of the location of such lines, the hazards involved, and protective measures to be taken as well as to post and maintain proper warning signs.

Passageways and Open Spaces

The employer must provide barriers or other means of guarding to ensure that workspace for electrical equipment will not be used as a passageway during the time when energized parts of electrical equipment are exposed. Walkways and similar working spaces must be kept clear of electric cords.

Other standards cover load ratings, fuses, cords, and cables.

Lockout and Tagging of Circuits

Tags must be placed on controls that are to be deactivated during the course of work on energized or de-energized equipment or circuits. Equipment or circuits that are de-energized must be rendered inoperative and have tags attached at all points where such equipment or circuits can be energized.

III. Safety-Related Maintenance and Environmental Considerations

Maintenance of Equipment

The employer must ensure that all wiring components and utilization equipment in hazardous locations are maintained in a dust-tight, dust-ignition-proof, or explosion-proof condition without loose or missing screws, gaskets, threaded connections, seals, or other impairments to a tight condition.

Environmental Deterioration of Equipment

Unless identified for use in the operating environment, no conductors or equipment can be located:

  • In damp or wet locations.
  • Where exposed to gases, fumes, vapors, liquids, or other agents having a deteriorating effect on the conductors or equipment.
  • Where exposed to excessive temperatures.

Control equipment, utilization equipment, and bus ways approved for use in dry locations only must be protected against damage from the weather during building construction.

For protection against corrosion, metal raceways, cable armor, boxes, cable sheathing, cabinets, elbows, couplings, fittings, supports, and support hardware must be of materials appropriate for the environment in which they are installed.

IV. Safety Requirements for Special Equipment


Batteries of the unsealed type must be located in enclosures with outside vents or in well-ventilated rooms arranged to prevent the escape of fumes, gases, or electrolyte spray into other areas. Other provisions include the following:

Ventilation-to ensure diffusion of the gases from the battery and to prevent the accumulation of an explosive mixture.

Racks and trays-treated to make them resistant to the electrolyte.

Floors-acid-resistant construction unless protected from acid accumulations.

Face shields, aprons, and rubber gloves-for workers handling acids or batteries.

Facilities for quick drenching of the eyes and body-within 25 feet (7.62m) of battery handling areas.

Facilities-for flushing and neutralizing spilled electrolytes and for fire protection.

Battery Charging

Battery charging installations must be located in areas designated for that purpose. When batteries are being charged, vent caps must be maintained in functioning condition and kept in place to avoid electrolyte spray. Also, charging apparatus must be protected from damage by trucks.