Employers are tasked with ensuring that personnel who are considered “qualified electrical personnel” are properly equipped to perform any and all expected electrically-related tasks.
These tasks include knowledge and application of applicable electrical safety rules and regulations, proper donning of PPE, use of voltage-rated tools and properly-rated meters, as well as a host of other skills necessary to work safety when exposed to electrical hazards in the workplace.
So how does a company ensure this training is hitting home? How do employers ensure qualified employees are working safely and minimizing any chance of injury or death?
First of all, companies must have a well-written electrical safety policy. This policy, which goes by a host of names that vary from company to company, should delineate all electrical safety requirements clearly, listing expectations of qualified and unqualified employees. The policy should list which standard(s) the company is choosing to follow, and at a minimum, should be compliant with applicable OSHA standards. This policy should also include annual electrical safety compliance audits of employees, and at a minimum should be reviewed every three years, with updates applied as needed during the review process.
Once the formal electrical safety written program is in place, a process I call Qualified Electrical Worker Program (QEW) must be developed and implemented. This QEW Program can, of course, be included in the company’s electrical safety policy, and at a minimum should be referenced by the policy. So, what should a QEW Program contain? What are the requirements to ensure employees are electrically qualified? Simply put, OSHA leaves these decisions up to the employers. We recommend the following:
- A working knowledge of basic electrical safety – This can be achieved through a required training course on electrical shock, arc flash, arc blast, etc. and may be verified through a final written or oral examination.
- A working knowledge of electrical codes and standards – This includes NFPA 70E, applicable OSHA standards (OSHA Low-Voltage 1910 Subpart S and possibly OSHA High-Voltage 1910.269), and other guides as needed, such as NFPA 70B, NETA’s MTS. The applicable codes and standards should again be delineated in the company’s written electrical safety program. Remember that one often forgotten issue is a working knowledge of the NEC. We recommend a base-level 40-hour course on the National Electrical Code, along with annual refresher courses. If applicable, specialty articles for explosion-proof areas, medical facilities, IT rooms, and the like need also to be covered.
- An electrical knowledge assessment – This should include basic electrical theory items, such as Ohms’ law, load calculations, conduit fill, conduit bending techniques, and much more. Usually, this assessment is given as a written test, and sometimes it is followed up with an oral examination as well.
- CPR/AED/First Aid Training – This training should occur annually to ensure that qualified electrical personnel are ready to respond to an electrical accident proficiently. As firefighting, police, and medical personnel will testify, when an accident occurs, the first responder must depend upon his or her training, as emotions run high during such an event. Practical skills repeated over and over are the only effective way to properly prepare for immediate action in life-critical response.
- A Hands-On Demonstration of Skills – All skills necessary for the qualified electrical individual to perform his or her job safely must be demonstrated to the employer. Again, the decision of which skills are necessary rests upon the employer’s shoulders. Recommended skills include, but are not limited to:
- PPE usage – including proper donning of arc-rated clothing, faceshields, voltage-rated gloves and protectors, as well as PPE decision-making
- Insulated Tools usage – including determination of when insulated tools are necessary, which tools are required, and how to determine when a tool is in fact a properly-rated insulated tool
- Ability to read and interpret arc flash labels (or use NFPA 70E tables) – this task needs to include an exercise in which the individual is provided with an arc flash label typical for the location, with the expectation that the qualified employee can effectively interpret the information on the label, using this knowledge to properly set up the working environment, including worker safety boundaries, PPE decisions, and required tools and safety procedures for the upcoming task
- Ability to set up the job area properly – the qualified electrical employee should be able to set up an electrical site properly, using proper barricading techniques to mark off required boundaries such as limited approach, restricted approach, or arc flash boundaries, to name a few. The job area should be set up to meet applicable safety rules dictated in the company electrical safety policy, and at a minimum should keep unqualified personnel outside of any required safety boundary with clearly marked barricades and sign, including the use of a required observer (as many companies are doing)
- Ability to perform electrically required tasks – this area includes electrical troubleshooting, following electrical prints and drawings, properly interpreting electrical malfunctions, analyzing meter readings – all while applying all required safety principles such as body position, proper PPE donning, situational awareness, etc.
Again, ultimately it is the company management’s decision as to what is included in the QEW Program, but managing personnel must not forget that the allowed actions and behaviors of qualified electrical personnel in a facility decide the ultimate outcome – either the location will have a safe electrical working environment, or the location will allow unnecessary risks typically seen in untrained or under-trained electrical work environments. The latter results all too often in serious injury or fatalities, as seen each and every year in the statistics. Keep in mind that a trained, qualified, and audited workforce is a safe and efficient workforce. It is worth the investment.