Industrial electrical panels are used across numerous industries to direct electric currents among the many pieces of equipment within a facility. Communicating safety and work-related information effectively can mean the difference between a low incident rate and violations or injuries. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has reported that there were over 1,500 electrical workplace injuries in 2018. The best way to prevent workplace injuries is to have a proactive and thorough safety and facilities management program.
This guide will give you a thorough overview of the important considerations for labeling electrical panels and nearby equipment. Labels and tags remain important tools for communicating important information and keeping employees, contractors, and visitors informed. Key topics in the guide include regulatory standards, design considerations, and labeling processes that should be reviewed to identify the optimal way to label and tag your electrical assets.
Included in this guide:
- What is an Electrical Panel Label?
- Do Electrical Panels Have to be Labeled?
- What are the Regulatory Requirements for Electrical Panel Labels?
- Electrical Panel Label Materials and Design Considerations
- How to Choose Electrical Panel Labels
- Best Practices For Placing Labels on Electrical Equipment
What is an Electrical Panel Label?
The electrical infrastructure of the average industrial facility is typically complex and runs the span of the entire building. An important function of facilities management is to maintain a high level of awareness for safety and work management at all times. To accomplish this, labels are used in a variety of locations, including electrical panels and associated hardware.
Safety labels are used on electrical panels, connected equipment, and the surrounding areas to warn of potential hazards. These labels typically include a word of warning, symbol, and safety message with a more detailed description. Most of the time, these types of labels are also brightly colored and use red, yellow, and orange colors to attract attention.
Identification labels are also used on electrical panels and wiring to clarify the connections and types of electrical signals that are being used. The components that can be attached to an electrical distribution network may include feeders, disconnects, breaker panels, transfer switches, inverters, and other equipment. Each of these may require labels to identify components, power ratings, and other safety or work-related information.
Do Electrical Panels Have to be Labeled?
The labeling and documentation requirements for commercial locations are influenced by local laws, industry regulations, and standardized business procedures. Electrical panels and components in a building must be marked with a number of different labels that highlight both safety and identifying information. Two of the largest regulatory bodies that oversee facilities management in the United States including electrical systems are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Within these guidelines and others, you will find detailed requirements for labeling and documentation that include all aspects of electrical safety and the proper usage of labeling, tags, and signage within facilities. In recent years, OSHA has become more active in conducting inspections and issuing citations for any violations related to electrical labeling and other areas. It is therefore important for all industries to maintain awareness of the requirements and take proactive steps to ensure compliance across their entire electrical infrastructure.
When considering your electrical panels, also remember that there are a number of other electrical components that should also be labeled as part of your plan. These may include:
- Terminal blocks
- Emergency system boxes and enclosures
- Disconnect switches
- Enclosed circuit breakers
- Push-button stations
- Battery racks
- Power transfer equipment
- Contractors (relays)
What are the Regulatory Requirements for Electrical Panel Labels?
There are four sets of standards used within the United States that directly address electrical panel labeling in some way. These regulations are monitored and communicated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), National Electrical Code (NEC), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The following list will highlight some of the important sections within these regulations that are directly related to electrical labels within your facility. This is only an overview, and it is best to consult the regulations in detail to find all the relevant information required for your facility.
OSHA 29 CFR 1910. The Occupational Safety and Health Standards govern every aspect of work environments in the U.S. Within these regulations, a couple of sections are directly relevant to the safety and informational labeling of electrical panels and equipment:
- OSHA 1910.145(e)(2): “The wording of any sign should be easily read and concise. The sign should contain sufficient information to be easily understood. The wording should make a positive, rather than a negative suggestion and should be accurate in fact.”
- OSHA 1910.145(f)(4)(ii): “Signal word must be readable from a distance of 5 feet (1.52m).”
- OSHA 1910.303(e): “Electrical equipment may not be used unless the following markings have been placed on the equipment. The manufacturer’s name and trademark, other marking giving voltage, current, wattage or other ratings as necessary.”
- OSHA 1910.335(b)(1): “Safety signs, safety symbols, or accident prevention tags shall be used where necessary to warn employees about electrical hazards which may endanger them, as required by 1910.145.”
ANSI Z535. While the scope of ISO regulations covers an internationally recognized standard, the ANSI standards have been adopted to specify standards within the U.S. There are thousands of ANSI standards, but the one most important for electrical panel labeling is ANSI Z535 and specifically ANSI Z535.4 American National Standard for Product Safety Signs and Labels.
- ANSI Z535.4 4.11: “A symbol that indicates a hazard. It is comprised of an equilateral triangle surrounding an exclamation mark. The safety alert symbol is only used on hazard alerting signs. It is not used on safety notice or safety instruction signs.”
- ANSI Z535.4 7.2: “Detail color requirements for signal word panel (header) colors, as follows: DANGER must be white letters on a red background, WARNING must be black letters on an orange background, CAUTION must be black letters on a yellow background, NOTICE must be italicized white letters on a blue background, SAFETY must be white letters on a green background.”
- ANSI Z535.4 7.3: “The message panel should have either black lettering on a white background or white lettering on a black background.”
- ANSI Z535.4 8.1.2: “The message panel lettering should be a combination of upper and lower case letters. Upper case only lettering may be used for short message or emphasis on individual words.”
- ANSI Z535.4 8.2.3: “Signal word letter height to be at least 50% greater than the height of the capital H in the message.”
- ANSI Z535-4 10.2.2: “Product safety signs or labels should be replaced by the product user when they no longer meet the legibility requirements as described in section 8.2. In cases where products have an extensive expected life or were exposed to extreme conditions, the product user should contact either the product manufacturer or another source to determine a means for obtaining replacement signs or labels”
NFPA 70 / NEC 2020. The NFPA oversees the development of the National Electric Code, and it was recently updated in 2020. These codes serve as the benchmark for electrical hazard management and the design, installation, and inspection of electrical equipment. Since the scope of these guidelines is entirely electrical, it should be a point of focus for review with regard to electrical panel labeling.
- NEC 110.21(b): “The markings shall be of sufficient durability to withstand the environment involved.”
- NEC 110.24(A): “Service equipment other than dwelling units shall be legibly marked in the field with the maximum fault current. The field marking(s) shall include the date the fault-current calculation was performed.”
- NEC 110.27(C): “Entrance to rooms and other guarded locations that contain exposed live parts shall be marked with conspicuous warning signs forbidding unqualified persons to enter.”
- NEC 205.11: “Warning signs, where required, shall be visible, securely attached, and maintained in a legible condition.”
- NEC 205.12: “Circuit and voltage identification shall be securely affixed and maintained in updated and legible condition.”
- NEC 210.5(C)(1)(b): “The method utilized for conductors originating within each branch circuit panelboard or similar branch circuit distribution equipment shall be permanently posted at each branch-circuit panelboard or similar branch circuit equipment.”
- NEC 230.2(E): “Where a building or structure is supplied by more than one service, or any combination of branch circuits, feeders, and services, a permanent plaque or directory shall be installed at each service disconnect location denoting the other services, feeders and branch circuits supplying that building or structure and the area served by each.”
- NEC 408.4(A): Every circuit and circuit modification shall be legibly identified as to its clear, evident, and specific purpose of use.”
- NEC 408.4(B) “All switchboards and panelboards supplied by a feeder in other than one or two-family dwellings shall be marked to indicate the device or equipment where the power supply originates.”
- NEC 409.110(3): “Industrial Control Panels supplied by more than one power source such that more than one disconnecting means is required to disconnect all power within the control panel shall be marked to indicate that more than one disconnecting means is required to deenergize the equipment.”
NFPA 77 / NFPA 79. In addition to NFPA 70 above that specifically outlines the National Electric Code, these additional resources may be helpful for reviewing your labeling practices as well. This is especially true when reviewing equipment and wiring that will be connected to any electrical panels you are managing.
- NFPA 77. Recommended Practice on Static Electricity
- NFPA 79. Electrical Standard For Industrial Machinery
Electrical Panel Label Materials and Design Considerations
The design of specific electrical panel labels will depend primarily on regulatory requirements, equipment specifications, durability needs, and materials of construction. Labels must be easy to read from an appropriate distance and be able to withstand the environment.
- Regulatory requirements. As we covered above, the regulations set specific guidelines for the sizing, color, and information for your labels. Working within these limits, you should select appropriate specifications for your label design.
- Equipment specifications. Electrical panels come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is important to consider the surface area and any contours that may be present in the desired location for labeling. The overall form factor could impact the type of adhesive or material used for the label.
- Durability. Your labels must have able to survive the environment in which they will be used. In some applications, there may be potential exposure to sources of corrosion, harsh temperatures, or outdoor weather. For these situations, a more durable solution, such as an anodized aluminum metal label or Metalphoto® photosensitive anodized aluminum rating plate label, might be the best choice. In other general locations, such as sub-basements, a standard plastic label may be a perfect choice.
- Materials. For some electrical applications, adhesive-backed vinyl or polyester labels will provide the best balance of durability and cost. These materials are pliable enough to fit the surface or curve of a surface and come in a variety of colors and sizes.
How to Choose Electrical Panel Labels
When it comes to choosing a specific label, your first decision will be selecting from plastic or metal substrates. As mentioned above, both vinyl labels and polyester labels are good choices when it comes to marking electrical panels and related equipment. They are suitable for most electrical applications and have great durability and readability. Metal labels should be selected for applications requiring robust durability. One of the strongest materials available is Metalphoto photosensitive anodized aluminum, which is used for labels and tags that require a shelf life of over 20 years even in the harshest conditions.
Additional choices to fully customize your label include selecting the size, thickness, and type of adhesive. These should be matched with the needs of your electrical application and any additional requirements. The graphics, colors, and finish can also be customized with a production run to meet the quantity needs of your operation.
Best Practices for Placing Labels on Electrical Equipment
Placing your labels on electrical panels, walls, wires, and equipment should be a carefully planned process. It can be easy to miss a required label and be susceptible to a violation during a later inspection. When organizing electrical engineers and facilities maintenance personnel to complete the work, the following label installation best practices may be helpful:
- Verify the identity of equipment before installing labels
- Place labels in a location that is easily viewable from a convenient angle
- Be aware of viewing interference from any operational or maintenance equipment
- Clean the surface with suitable materials prior to applying the label
- Carefully review all equipment after installation to ensure nothing was missed
Selecting a proper label for electrical panels in an industrial facility requires a careful look at regulations, your hardware layout, and the environment in which your employees work. Proper planning can support an effective and thorough safety program for your entire operation. In addition to selecting electrical panel labels, your facilities management program should also involve proper maintenance and inspection for your equipment and your labels. Over time labels, may become worn or outdated and require replacement to maintain the integrity of your electrical system.
Further Reading on Electrical Panel Labels:
- Top ANSI Z535 Standard Resources (MPC)
- Service Equipment Labeling (IAEI Magazine)
- Labeling Electrical Equipment: What, Why, and Where to Turn for Guidance (NFPA Journal)
- The Complete Guide to Hazard Communication Standards (MPC)
- Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI)
- Standard for Industrial Control Panels (UL 508A)
- What are UL 969 Standards for Marking and Labeling? (MPC)
- Electrical Design Guidelines & Standards (University of Cincinnati)
- Proper Labeling Of Circuit Breakers & Covering Unused Openings (ETP)
- The Complete Guide to GHS Labels and Compliance Requirements (MPC)