Q: When it comes to work on energized equipment, who (site owner, contractor, or contractor employee) is required to know when it is necessary to de-energize when outside contractors are used?
A: The short answer is that the owner of the equipment takes on the liability of the equipment.
But the decision to work energized or de-energized may lie with the contractor’s electrical safety program (ESP). Hiring a contractor is no defense for inadequate safety. Ignorance is no defense for inadequate safety. A qualified contractor is the key, but most companies do not know how to pick a qualified contractor. If you have a large company and do not have qualified electrical workers to assess your contractors, hire a quality safety company to evaluate, audit and approve some contractors you can choose from. This is a good way to maintain safety in a plant, warehouse or any facility when you don’t have internal electrical safety expertise. Many of those hurt every year are contractors.
NFPA 70E 2015 makes this very clear: “Where the review of the arc flash hazard risk assessment identifies a change that renders the label inaccurate, the label shall be updated. The owner of the electrical equipment shall be responsible for the documentation, installation, and maintenance of the field-marked label.” 130.5(D)
While the contractor is responsible for their own employees, the equipment maintenance, labeling and condition is the responsibility of the owner. This is part of the risk assessment process.
From a legal perspective, the contractor’s employees may not normally be allowed to sue the contractor BUT they can sue the building owner, the general contractor and others assumed to be partially or wholly responsible for the injury. After serving as an expert witness for many such lawsuits (usually testifying for the building owner or PPE manufacturer) we recommend due diligence on the part of all property owners.