Contact with electricity is a significant cause of workplace injuries and fatalities. While many of these incidents can be prevented by ensuring only qualified workers perform all electrical work, what education, training, and experience make an electrical worker qualified? The answer is “it depends.”
To properly answer this question, we must examine the nature of the work, the tasks to be performed, the methods to be utilized, the regulations involved, the risk of electric shock and arc flash, and the potential exposure to other electrical hazards.
What Does OSHA Say?
OSHA’s Electrical Standard 1910.332 in 1910 Subpart S stipulates specific training requirements for employees listed in Table S-4 of the standard, including:
- Electrical and Electronic Engineers
- Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers
- Electrical and Electronic Technicians
- Industrial Machine Operators
- Material Handling Equipment Operators
- Mechanics and Repairers
- Riggers and Roustabouts
- Stationary Engineers
Workers in these groups do not need to be trained in certain content if their work or the work of those they supervise does not bring them close enough to exposed parts of electric circuits operating at 50 volts or more to ground for a hazard to exist. However, it is also important to note that OSHA does require specific training for other employees not listed above who are also reasonably expected to face a comparable risk of injury due to electric shock or other electrical hazards. A person may be considered qualified with respect to certain equipment and tasks but still be unqualified for others. In general, OSHA considers an electrical worker to be qualified if the worker is trained and competent in the following:
- The skills and techniques necessary to distinguish exposed live parts and determine the nominal voltage
- The ability to recognize minimum approach distances corresponding to the voltages
- Proper use of precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment (PPE), insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools for working on or near exposed energized equipment
What’s the Bottom Line from a Safety Perspective?
If your organization is struggling with determining who is a qualified worker and how to establish a qualified worker program, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Both OSHA and NFPA 70E stipulate what constitutes a qualified worker.
- Job titles and general certifications do not make a person a qualified worker.
- Very specific safety-related training is required for a person to be considered a qualified electrical worker.
- Qualifications may be task and equipment specific.
- OSHA requires that workers be suitably qualified to perform certain electrical tasks.
- It is the employer’s responsibility to create a method to qualify workers for electrical tasks, regardless of the individual’s prior licensure or work experience. The qualification process must be formal and include a combination of classroom training, on-the-job training, demonstration, and verification of skills and must be documented.
- The main emphasis of qualification training needs to be on electrical hazards and how to mitigate those hazards through the hierarchy of controls.
- Specific organized labor organizations/labor unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), may also set specific criteria for determining a qualified worker as it relates to tasks performed by their members through collective bargaining agreements or other means, but these cannot be less than the criteria required by OSHA.
- To develop a qualification process, start by listing the tasks that employees will need to perform on or near energized equipment, the specific hazards associated with those tasks, and the specific skills and knowledge employees will need to work safely.
- Consider using professional electrical safety consultants to help you develop your process and program.
When it comes to electrical job tasks, qualified electrical workers must understand the hazards of exposed energized parts. Knowing how to employ safe electrical work practices reduces the chances of a mistake becoming a serious injury or a fatality. As an employer, you must establish, document, and implement the safety-related work practices and procedures required by NFPA 70E and OSHA and provide employees with training on safety-related work practices and procedures. HP&D safety professionals have in-depth knowledge of safety standards, codes, and regulations and significant experience with various work environments and equipment. Let us help you keep your workers safe.