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OSHA Electrical Panel Clearance

28th July 2023

Image of electrical panels. These can be easily overlooked in the search for storage space, Hazard Detection ensures continuous monitoring of protected zones for OSHA/HSE compliance, including OSHA Electrical Panel Clearance requirements

What is the OSHA standard for electrical panels?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has long recognised the importance of electrical safety regulation, given the potential for it to be a significant workplace hazard.

The OSHA electrical panel requirements are grouped under standard 1910.303, which details the many different ways in which workplaces must ensure their employees safety. Within this standard there are a number of sub-parts which cost retailers over $800,000 between October 2021 and September 2022.

Why do electrical panels need 36 inches of clearance?

OSHA states that the width of working space in front of electrical equipment should be the width of the equipment or 762mm (30 inches) whichever is greater. It also states the working space should permit the equipment doors or hinged panels to open at least 90°, and that working space required by this standard may not be used for storage.

This amount of clearance is deemed to be the minimum for safety. Whether it is lack of maintenance, poor installation or simply components wearing out, if an electrical panel fails it can spark and cause a fire. Whilst there are ways to put out electrical fires, this is only relevant when the fire is small and contained. The most important issue when a fire ignites is to ensure everyone evacuates the building securely and to call the fire service.

HSE and OSHA electrical panel requirements recognise the severity of the risk of an electrical panel failing and causing a fire; the proximity of flammable materials to the panel can be the difference between catastrophic damage and an isolatable incident.

Can an electrical panel be blocked?

Electrical panels should not be blocked for the above reasons. Not only is this likely to lead to fines during an OSHA inspection, but crucially items blocking the electrical panel can also provide fuel should a fire break out.

The electrical panel box should be accessible at all times, and especially in the case of emergencies. Electrical panels should also be equipped with an appropriate cover, and crucially this should remain closed to prevent accidental contact.

What should not be stored near an electrical panel?

For retail employees finding space to store products can be challenging. Not only must they not block fire exits or exit routes, but they must also be mindful that the clear space in front of an electrical panel is not available for storage. Whilst regulations state the areas must be kept clear, it is also important to recognise which items stored nearby may also be a hazard risk.

The first of these is the storage of combustible materials such as cardboard, flammable upholstery and furnishings, grease, solvents to name just a few. It is important these items are treated with caution – should an electrical panel spark in the vicinity of combustibles, a fire can break out and spread quickly and easily risking lives and enormous structural and building damage.

Conductive materials are another seemingly innocuous but high risk material to store near electrical panels. When an electrical panel fails, some of the live elements can cause an arc creating an electrical connection between conductive materials. An example of this could be a metal storage cage or a trolley. If stored near to an electrical panel and the electricity arcs it can make materials ‘live’ and run the risk of an employee being electrocuted.

Whilst electricity is an intrinsic part of life, it is important to remember how deadly it can be, and to take electrical safety seriously. Failures in electrical safety can cost lives. They can cause untold damage, indirect costs such as increased insurance premiums and public liability insurance premiums increase, and they can costs thousands in fines.

How can you ensure that you always have the correct clearance around your electrical panels?

Businesses first need to understand the minimum requirements placed on them. OSHA provides a handy online tool which can help you to understand what the requirements are specific to your location. Once the detailed fire risk assessment and evacuation action plan are created, these then need to be translated into training for employees.

Whilst businesses can provide training sessions for employees, the challenge is to firstly ensure the employee is absorbing the information, and secondly acts on it at all times.

In a busy retail environment where employees are working hard to complete their numerous tasks, the challenge is often their own judgement of risk vs. compliance regulations – simply, this means employees need to know they should not take shortcuts.

For retailers facing fines, the shortcuts can be the area that ultimately costs them the most. Hazard Detection offers a simple solution, harnessing existing CCTV to continuously monitor protected zones. Should an obstruction be detected, it sends real-time notifications via existing communication and notification channels for hazards to be removed. The solution automatically adjusts when knocked during routine maintenance or cleaning events, and it ignores people standing in protected zones keeping notifications only for true obstruction events. The health and safety management system can monitor protected zones across the estate simultaneously, offering real-time information and historical reporting for audit purposes.

Read more on what to expect when deploying Hazard Detection across your retail estate and get in touch with the team.


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