Qualified vs. Non-Qualified

By Jay Smith

This topic is still one of the most frequent questions I receive while traveling the country speaking on NFPA 70E and Electrical Safety. Since the 2004 NFPA 70E, we began to see employers emphasizing adherence to the requirements of the 70E standard. Although that's a very important issue, the problem for many is knowing where to start. The old theory of, "well, Bob's been an electrician here for 30 years – I'm sure he knows what he's doing," doesn't cut it anymore. Many organizations do not know the real difference between a 'qualified' and an 'unqualified' worker. As you read along, you will learn how to establish a Qualified Worker Program and what steps you can take to keep it going.

A qualified worker is simply someone who is trained and knowledgeable about the tasks he/she will be performing. He/she must be able to identify and protect oneself from all the hazards associated with the task and be able to demonstrate proficiency.

Hmmm…. What Does That Actually Mean? TRAINING!

Workers must be trained to not only have the skills, but to also know the safety methods necessary for the job. Although your electrician may have been doing the trade for the past 30 years, it doesn't mean they are necessarily trained or qualified. Perhaps they have just been lucky. Most electrical maintenance employees are very good at their job; they are usually some of the most skilled and proficient employees an organization has. Many times they are left alone to do their jobs with little oversight, because the ones who are responsible for their safety may not necessarily even understand how to oversee them. Consequently, they are left alone to go forth and conquer the day.

The answer to all your questions is very simple: TRAINING and DOCUMENTATION. We must train our staff and document the training with the dates and durations. The contact associated with the training must also be verifiable. We shouldn't only train on the safety of working in energized electrical equipment, but we must also train on how to safely use test instruments and meters.

Remember to document everything! I have been asked many times, "how long does OSHA require the training be?". They don't specify how long the training should be, but what they do state is that the training and the content must be verified. When I hear that a company received a 1-hour free training from a vendor, I suspect that it would be tough to verify that an employee was qualified from that 1-hour training.

Employers need to remember that a Qualified Worker Program is theirs to own. You can have someone write a program for you; but at the end of the day, the program must be customized specifically to your organization. There is no such thing as a 'one-size-fits-all' program.

Where Do You Begin?

Get your Electrical Safety Program and Qualified Worker Program updated. Either pull one from the Internet somewhere or contact a safety company such as Lewellyn Technology to help you write it. We recommend that you outsource the training and ensure that those workers you are wanting to be a part of your "Qualified Worker Program" receive at least a 6-hour instructor-led course on NFPA 70E Electrical Safety. If you do not have a record of these employees receiving training on how to properly use a meter, we suggest that you have a class that will teach hands-on troubleshooting such as NFPA 70E Plus class.

Ensuring that you have a Qualified Worker Program doesn't have to be something that you are afraid of implementing. There are many examples you can use, or simply contact Lewellyn Technology to get you started. The bottom line is if you are managing a group of electrical maintenance personnel, and no one on your team including you cannot remember the last time you were trained, chances are it's been too long – and the time to refresh your skills and knowledge is now.

About the Author: For the past 15 years, Jay has lead Lewellyn Technology's arc flash/electrical safety teams through the myriad of changes that NFPA 70E has thrown our way. Jay spends the majority of his time working with national accounts and assisting our clients with implementing NFPA 70E. Jay is also nationally known for his expertise in communicating the requirements of arc flash and electrical safety through trade shows, conferences, webinars, and corporate safety conferences. He has worked closely with major US and international corporations, including: Google, Nike, Universal Studios, Jones Lang LaSalle, Vornado, CBRE, First Potomac, Lincoln Properties, the John Buck Company, Amazon.com, Cummins, T-Mobile, and countless others. Jay is a graduate from the University of Southern Indiana with a BS in Biology and is a co-owner of Lewellyn Technology LLC.

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