Electrical panels can be found in just about every business. However,
because they are not typically out in the open or inspected daily, it’s
easy to overlook electrical panels and the potential risks associated with
Without the proper precautions, things like exposed wires, faulty
components and improper grounding create a host of exposures—exposures that
can severely disrupt or harm an organization. But of all the concerns
associated with electrical panels, one common and often overlooked issue
relates to maintaining proper clearances.
This Risk Insights provides a general overview of the dangers associated
with improper electrical panel clearances and the related Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Electrical Code (NEC)
Why Maintain Proper Clearances?
Simply put, businesses must maintain proper clearances around electrical
panels to promote ease of access during service, repair and operational
procedures. The following are some common scenarios where electrical panel
clearance is critical and directly affects the safety and well-being of
Shutting down equipment during an incident
—In the event of an equipment malfunction or similar safety incident,
workers must be able to access electrical panels. This allows them to
easily shut off potentially harmful equipment and secure the work area.
This is particularly important for equipment that does not feature an
emergency shut-off switch.
Repairing and maintaining electrical panels
—When panels are obstructed, they are more difficult to access and
maintain. What’s more, if a worker is servicing an electrical panel and
has to contend with nearby obstacles, they are more likely to make a
mistake or injure themselves. This risk is compounded if the employee
is working on live electrical components.
Storing materials and performing work
—Businesses that store hazardous or combustible materials too close to
electrical panels run the risk of starting fires. What’s more, when
employees perform work nearby an electrical panel, they could
accidently hit or damage it, creating potential electrocution hazards.
To help organizations maintain the proper clearances and ensure workplace
safety, OSHA and the NEC have specific clearance requirements all
organizations must follow.
An Overview of Electrical Panel Clearances
There are a number of clearance distances established by OSHA and the NEC
that must be maintained at all times. These clearances relate specifically
to the depth, width and height of the working space around electrical
While the minimum depth clearance distance is 2.5 feet for installations
built before April 16, 1981, there are a number of more precise
requirements depending on voltage and what OSHA and NEC guidelines call
—There are exposed live parts on one side of the working space and no
live or grounded parts (e.g., concrete, brick or tile walls) on the
other. Under these conditions, the clearance distances are 3 feet for
any voltage between 0 and 600.
—There are exposed live parts on one side of the working space and
grounded parts on the other. Under these conditions, the clearance
distances are 3 feet for voltages between 0 and 150, and 3.5 feet for
voltages between 151 and 600.
—There are exposed live parts on both sides of the working space. Under
these conditions, the clearance distances are 3 feet for voltages
between 0 and 150, and 4 feet for voltages between 151 and 600.
Please review the chart below for more detail.
In addition to the above, there are clearance requirements as they pertain
to the width of a working space around electrical equipment. Specifically,
the working space around electrical equipment must be as wide as the
equipment or 30 inches, whichever distance is greater.
The required height of a working space around electrical equipment will
largely depend on when a particular installation was built:
- For installations built before Aug. 13, 2007, the height of the working
space must be 6.25 feet.
- For installations built on or after Aug. 13, 2007, the height must be at
least 6.5 feet from the floor, grade or platform. It can’t be lower than
the height of the equipment.
In addition, all panel doors must be able to open at least 90 degrees to
allow clear access.
A Lasting Solution
While it’s important to understand the risks and requirements associated
with electrical panel clearances, it’s equally important to implement
workplace controls to mitigate risks long term. While a business can comply
with OSHA and NEC rules by simply moving materials away from a panel, this
does not address underlying issues that create clearance concerns in the
To ensure your organization adopts proper electrical panel protocols,
consider training employees on the applicable requirements. In addition,
it’s a good idea to clearly label working spaces that are affected by the
rule, using signage, barricades and floor markings to indicate required