NFPA 70E defines a Qualified Person as “one who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify the hazards and reduce the associated risk.” Normally, I would love to talk about the second half of this definition involving training. However, recently there has been a concerning question popping up when I speak to groups: how do we meet the qualifications of the first part—demonstrated skills and knowledge?
Unfortunately, there is no easy button for an employer to push and magically see how to qualify their electrical workers. This is going to require a bit of work on the employer’s part.
I recently helped a client run through the process of assessing their electrical workforce. The client needed to ensure that the employees’ skills and knowledge met the requirements for a qualified electrical worker (QEW). There is more to this process than meets the eye.
Becoming a QEW
First, before an employee can even think about going through the physical demonstration exercise, they need to have successfully completed the classroom portion of the program. Employees are enrolled in training that covers the control of hazardous energy procedures; emergency response including first aid, CPR and AED use; and the requirements of identifying electrical hazards and reducing the associated risks. Without this training, the students aren’t ready to move on to the next stage. This training alone is also not enough to deem them a QEW.
The worker must demonstrate some skills to the employer to graduate to a QEW. In the process of determining if the employee possesses the necessary skills, we tend to focus on a singular task and use it to allow the employee to demonstrate their ability to perform certain procedures. By knowing that an employee can perform certain tasks, it helps the employer understand whether they will be able to make the correct decisions when presented with an electrical hazard.
Take the act of establishing an electrically safe work condition. This is a task that every QEW must perform. However, this procedure contains smaller tasks that involve employee exposure to potential electrical hazards.
Hot until it's not
Remember, it’s hot until it’s not, and therefore we treat the equipment as though it is energized until we read zero volts on an adequately rated test instrument. This means potential shock and arc flash hazards are present throughout the process.
This requires the employee to use a process for job planning, lockout/tagout, risk assessment and PPE selection/inspection and use. It also requires that the individual knows how to select and use the appropriate test instruments and any necessary insulated tools.
Making the right call
When an employee is deemed a qualified person, it confirms that the individual has the knowledge to make the correct choices when faced with electrical hazards. This is achievable through demonstration of the many items that go into the simple act of establishing an electrically safe work condition. For example, will they know how to perform the inflation test on their rubber insulating gloves before they use them?
After the hands-on training portion of the program, the individual has been instructed on how to do the test, learned when they must perform it and demonstrated that they know how to perform this test. It then becomes reasonable for the employer to say that this is a skill the employee knows how to perform. It is interchangeable whether they are performing maintenance, troubleshooting or an absence of voltage test to create the electrically safe work condition.
This approach is repeated for all skills necessary to be deemed a qualified person. Once they show it for a single task, they also know how to perform these procedures during other tasks. The employer is responsible to make the call on being qualified or not, and knowing the individual’s ability to perform the basics is the key to making the right decision.
Keep in mind, however, that specific procedures will still require individual training. For example, if new technology, such as remote racking equipment, is incorporated, the employee will need additional training on how to operate the new equipment. At least when they do, they will be aware of the rest of the work that goes into setting up and working safely around electrical equipment.