"In industrial establishments where the conditions of maintenance and supervision ensure that only qualified persons will service the installation..."

Think about how many times the National Electrical Code (NEC) begins a requirement with these words. Frequently, these words are employed to provide an exception to the general rule for the respective Code provisions.

For example, Section 501-4(a)(1) limits the general wiring methods for Class I, Division 1 locations to threaded rigid metal conduit, threaded steel intermediate metal conduit, or Type MI cable with termination fittings approved for the location. Exceptions No. 2 and 3, however, both permit cable assemblies (Type MC and ITC) to be utilized in accordance with several additional requirements.

The significance of these exceptions is that they rely on the application of a "qualified person" as a condition of their use. Article 100 of the 1999 NEC defines qualified person as "(O)ne familiar with the construction and operation of the equipment and the hazards involved."

Historical development

Interestingly, the concept of a "qualified person" or a "competent person" first appeared in the 1899 NEC. The requirement was in the chapter designated as Class A-Stations and Dynamo Rooms, and was associated with the operation of generators. Section 6.a. stated, "A competent man must be kept on duty where generators are operating." This requirement was in the Code through the 1915 edition. There was no definition in the Code for the term competent person.

In the 1920 edition of the NEC, the term "qualified attendants" was first introduced. Again, in the chapter containing requirements for generators, motors, and switchboards, the provision required that "(G)enerators must, when operated at over 150 volts potential and are accessible to other than qualified attendants, have their frames grounded in the manner specified in No. 15A." Once again, there was no definition or guidance provided as to the determination as to the skills or knowledge needed in order to be considered a "qualified attendant." In the 1923 edition of the Code, a major editorial initiative was undertaken and the document was "recodified and reformatted."

As part of this revision the former subdivisions referred to, as "Class" now became Articles and Article 1 contained definitions. This is the first time that an Article dedicated to definitions appeared in the Code. Article 1 contained a definition for "Qualified Person" that stated, "one familiar with the construction and operation of the apparatus and the hazards involved."

Jeffery Sargent, senior electrical specialist with the National Fire Protection Association believes that, while the origins of the definition are unknown, he has a good idea where the definition has its roots. "No technical background on the development of these definitions is available; however, I think that I have a hunch on its origin. First, the term "qualified person" was used in at least two sections of the 1923 NEC. The first use was in "Article 4-Services." Section 405b. stated, "The service switch, unless mounted on a switchboard accessible only to qualified persons, shall be enclosed in a grounded metal case, shall indicate plainly whether it is open or closed, and shall disconnect all conductors of the circuit;…"

The second use of the term was in Article 10-Rotating Machinery and Its Control Apparatus. Section 1001.a. read, "The frame, except for portable motors, shall be grounded if the machine operates at a potential in excess of 150 volts and is accessible to other than qualified persons."

Here is my hunch on where the definition of qualified person originated. Beginning with the 1947 edition of the Code, the preamble to Article 100 indicated that the definitions identified with an asterisk are duplicates of those found in the American Standard Definitions of Electrical Terms-C42 1941 edition. (The 1947 Code was the first full edition since the 1940, because the publication was suspended due to WWII.)

This document, which was the first one of its kind and was published by the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, is now ANSI C-42, Standard Dictionary of Electrical and Electronics Terms, IEEE Std.100, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Prior to that the AIEE (formed in 1884) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE formed in 1912) published standards that contained definitions of technical terms.

The term "qualified" is defined in the IEEE dictionary today as: "having adequate knowledge of the installation, construction and operation of apparatus and the hazards involved." It is my supposition that this has been a long-standing term from the early standards of the AIEE and IRE and was considered suitable for inclusion as a definition in the 1923 NEC.

Analysis and application

Clearly, the concept of "qualified person" was introduced to assign restrictions to important Code provisions. Unfortunately, very little information was provided as to the intent of the determination of what makes a person "qualified." Because of this, the actual determination of whether a person is qualified is often left to the authority having jurisdiction.

A review of the many references to "qualified person" in the 1999 NEC reveals a somewhat different use of the concept nowadays. Instead of using the term to emphasize the importance of a particular Code provision, the term is frequently used as a limitation to an exception from a general Code provision.

In other words, the installer is permitted to bypass the general provision based on the "qualified person" rule. This can be very problematic, especially in light of a lack of guidance in assessing the requisite skills and knowledge of the presumed qualified person.

For example, the 1987 NEC contained an exception to the general requirement that all exposed, noncurrent-carrying metal parts of electric signs and associated equipment be grounded. The exception read as follows: "Where insulated from ground and from other conductive objects and accessible only to qualified persons."

Unfortunately, as the substantiation for the proposal to delete the exception stated, "At least two deaths in Oregon in the past year have resulted from shock induced from faulty electrical signs that were in compliance with this exception." As a result of these fatalities, the exception was deleted from the 1990 NEC.

But this example illustrates what is lacking from the definition. Arguably, these men may not have been considered "qualified" by definition. However, note that the definition does not adequately give guidance to making a determination as to the skills, and knowledge necessary to be considered "qualified." In addition, the definition lacks a reference to a basic understanding of the safety skills necessary to safely perform the tasks.

2002 proposal

Code Making Panel 1 has accepted in principal a proposal for the 2002 NEC, which will revise the definition of "qualified person" to read as follows: "(O)ne who has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the equipment and has received safety training on the hazards involved."

This is an important revision and lays the groundwork for an enhanced definition of qualified person, which will attempt to address the deficiencies in the historical use of the term. First, it clarifies that to be a qualified person you must have the "skills and knowledge" directly related to the construction and operation of the equipment. For example, an electrician may meet minimum qualifications required for licensing, but still lack the skills and knowledge necessary to perform a particular task on a specific piece of electrical equipment, for example, a high-voltage switchboard.

Incidentally, Code Making Panel 4 has recognized this same problem. They have accepted a proposal for the 2002 NEC that will require additional documentation of skills and training needed for certain "over 600-volt" applications.

The second item addressed by this proposed revision is that of specific safety training that may be necessary before one can be considered "qualified. The former definition only required knowledge of the hazards. This proposed revision will address the need for specific safety training on the hazards involved. This is a very important distinction.

Granted, the definition still lacks specific guidance to ascertaining whether an individual has the skills and knowledge necessary to be considered qualified, but the proposal does recognize the need for additional training to be considered qualified.

Perhaps a determination or a definition of "qualified" is beyond the scope of the NEC. Is it appropriate for a document with a stated purpose of "practical safeguarding of persons and property from hazards arising from the use of electricity" to define what or who is a qualified person? In the context in which this definition is presently used, it is. CMP-1 was correct in its acceptance of the proposed revision to the Article 100 definition. Other Code-making panels should follow suit and determine whether the use of the term "qualified person" is appropriate for the specific application the rule is applicable to for their respective requirements.

Interestingly, this question is not unique to the NEC. Other NFPA documents, such as "NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces," also struggle to deal with this question.

The 70E Standard contains a definition of a qualified person that goes far beyond that included in the NEC. In addition, other international standards also address the issue by including similar definitions.

For example, there are two references within International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) documents. The first is "skilled person," which is defined as a "Person such as an engineer or a technician, with technical knowledge or sufficient experience to enable him or her to avoid dangers which electricity may create."

The second term is "instructed person," which is defined as "Person such as an operating or staff member, adequately advised or supervised by skilled to enable him or her to avoid dangers which electricity may create." Both of these definitions appear in IEC 50-826: (1982-01), International Electrotechnical Vocabulary, "Chapter 826: Electrical installations within buildings."

The use of the term "qualified person" has a long history within electrical safety standards and documents. The use and application of the term, however, has changed dramatically. To meet the stated purpose of the Code, a close examination of the present use of the term, especially where used to permit an exception to a generally accepted rule, is fully warranted.

CALLANAN is the director of Safety, Codes, and Standards for the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee in Upper Marlboro, Md. He represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as a principal member of the NEC Technical Correlating committee. He can be reached by e-mail at mikec@njatc.org