What Makes a Qualified Electrical Worker?
Employers should focus on training their employees regularly to ensure safety.
- By Colin Duncan
- Jun 01, 2021
Since NFPA 70E was issued in 2000, employers began to put more emphasis on adhering to the requirements of the 70E standard. However, many are still wondering, “Where do we start?”
The old theory of years of, “experience equals knowledge and training,” doesn’t cut it anymore. Many organizations struggle with how to ensure they truly have qualified workers. Many don’t know the real difference between a “qualified” and “unqualified” worker. Often, management responsible for ensuring workers are qualified, aren’t sure how to go about that process. Here are a few quick tips on how to establish a qualified worker program and what you can do to keep it going.
Qualified Person Defined
The term “qualified person,” is defined in the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E as, “one who has demonstrated skill and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify and avoid the hazards involved.” This revised definition aligns with the one used by OSHA.
A qualified person must be trained in methods of safe release and special precautionary techniques per 2021 NFPA 70E Article 110.6(C)(1). A qualified person must also be able to demonstrate the ability to use a test instrument to verify the absence of voltage under 2021 NFPA 70E Article 110.8 (E).
Simply put, a qualified worker is someone who is trained and knowledgeable about the tasks he/she will be performing. He/she must be able to identify and protect themselves from all the hazards associated with the task and be able to demonstrate his/her proficiency. Your emphasis should be on training.
Workers must be trained to have, not only the skills, but also the safety practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves on the job. Just because your electrician has been doing the trade for the past 30 years, doesn’t mean he/she is necessarily trained or qualified. Perhaps, they have just been lucky.
Training & Documentation
Most electrical maintenance employees are very good at their job. They are usually some of the most skilled and proficient employees an organization has. However, many times they are left alone to do their jobs with little oversight. Why? Those who are responsible for their safety may not necessarily understand how to oversee them.
The answer to all your questions rests with training and documentation. Safety training for skills and hazards on many types of equipment can be fairly straightforward. Don’t stick your hands under the saw blade. Don’t put your head under the giant stamping-press. Wear hearing protection in high noise areas. Use gloves to avoid cuts and abrasions. Put on respirators when entering confined spaces. However, training for electrical hazards is not as simple when it comes to arc flash and arc blast.
You can’t simply look at an energized asset and know all of the hazards. Sure, if you touch the “shiny” parts while energized you can get shocked, but you can’t know the arc flash hazard by looking at it. We shouldn’t train only on the safety of working with energized electrical equipment, but we must also train on how to safely use test instruments and meters.
Remember to document everything! This means keeping track of the date and the duration. The contact associated with the training also must be verifiable.
If you have not conducted an arc flash assessment, your employees will need to have very specific training on safe work practices to prevent injury. We don’t only train on the safety of working in energized electrical equipment, we must also train on how to use a test instrument.
Here is one scenario: The task is to perform a simple lockout/tagout procedure on a 480-volt disconnect and verify the absence of voltage with a test instrument. A qualified person must be able to:
*Determine the nominal voltage, the shock protection boundary and the appropriate PPE to wear using the equipment label (if available) or by using the NFPA 70E tables.
*Determine if an arc flash hazard exists. If an arc flash hazard exists, determine the arc flash boundary and appropriate arc rated PPE to wear by using the arc flash label (if available) or by using the NFPA 70E tables.
*Use available documentation to determine all possible supply sources to equipment. Example: single line drawing
*Turn off disconnect and open door (PPE must be worn).
*Select the appropriate test instrument and check to see if instrument is working properly by performing a live–dead-live test.
*Close cover to disconnect and place a locking device and label/tag with all required information.
I have been asked many times, “What duration does OSHA require for training”? OSHA doesn’t specify length of training. However, OSHA does state that the training must be verified, including the content and delivery method. When I hear that a company received a one-hour free training from a vendor, I suspect that it would be tough to verify that an employee was qualified from that one-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 specific to your organization.
I frequently joke with clients that a how to design a “qualified worker” program is as simple as documenting the requirements and ensuring workers follow them. You can even say that to be a qualified worker at your facility you are required to run around the building two times before each shift. As silly as that sounds, the point is to remember this is your program, it must fit your company. There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” program.
Where to Begin
Get your Electrical Safety Program and Qualified Worker Program updated. Either pull one from the Internet somewhere or contact a safety company to help you write it. A portion of this program will include what your training programs will entail. We recommend you outsource the training and ensure that those workers you want to be a part of your “Qualified Worker Program” receive at least a six-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 also have a class that will teach hands-on troubleshooting.
Ensuring 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 a third-party electrical safety trainer to get you started.
The bottom-line: If you are responsible for managing a group of electrical maintenance employees and no one on your team, including yourself, cannot remember the last time they were trained, chances are it’s been too long and the time is now.
Remember, workers cannot be considered “qualified” until they demonstrate the skills and knowledge to safely perform a specific electrical task. Holding a professional credential such as an electrical certification or license does not in and of itself demonstrate that the holder is a “qualified person.” An effective electrical safety program within a company or contracting firm is critical to making sure that workers exposed to electrical hazards are qualified.
This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.