Continuing or Updating? Furthering a qualified person’s education

By Derek Vigstol | May 15, 2023
Getty Images /  Nadezhda Kurbatova

As a licensed electrician, continuing education is not a new concept. However, a certain approach to it has always troubled me. 

As a licensed electrician, continuing education is not a new concept. However, a certain approach to it has always troubled me. 

In Minnesota, the rules were straightforward: every two years, I needed 16 hours to qualify for license renewal. Of those 16 hours, 12 must be on NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, and four can be on something else technically related, such as NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. 

Like many others in IBEW Local 292, that meant spending a weekend at the JATC on an NECupdate class for 16 hours all in one shot, going over changes or rehashing the updates right before the next edition. But I always wondered how this was continuing my education. 

A few years ago, I was working as the senior electrical content specialist at NFPA and my eyes were opened to the opportunity to truly further my electrical safety education. Someone suggested I attend the Electrical Safety Workshop hosted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). So in 2017, I headed to Reno, Nev., the “biggest little city in America,” and it was possibly the single greatest event for the change in my career trajectory. I spent an entire week surrounded by people who knew much more than I did about my chosen profession. 

Being a qualified person

I had turned a corner in my career and was formally continuing my education instead of updating it. This is important when we examine what it takes to remain a “qualified person” in the eyes of NFPA 70E and OSHA. 

It is not enough to simply rerun the electrical safety training we had in the past. We need to seek out sources of new information as we live and work in an ever-changing technological landscape. That concept is the entire reason the Electrical Safety Workshop was created. 

IEEE’s mission and strategy statements describe what the organization does with their training:

“Our mission is to

  • Accelerate application of breakthrough improvements in human factors, technology, and managing systems that reduce risk of electrical injuries,
  • Stimulate innovation in overcoming barriers,
  • Change and advance the electrical safety culture to enable sustainable improvements in prevention of electrical accidents and injuries.”

IEEE's strategy includes:

  • “Providing forums for people to meet and exchange ideas for preventing electrical accidents and injuries in the workplace
  • Accelerating advancements in development and application of technology, work practices, standards, and regulations
  • Linking professionals and centers of excellence in industry, engineering, government and medicine.”

Changing training

Applying this description to the definition of a qualified person, in particular—“… received safety training to identify the hazards and reduce the associated risk”—it becomes clear that to remain a qualified person, we need to stay on top of the latest information about what hazards are present and how to handle them. 

For example, when I first went through a 70E class, the instructor mentioned something about DC systems in the standard, but the class seemed to focus only on AC systems. This year, it seemed about every other presentation and paper had to do with DC battery systems and arc flash incident energy. Rightfully so—take a look at how infrastructure has changed in 20 years. Even 15 years ago, the concept of applying 70E work practices to bus mechanics was not a conversation we needed. Now it is commonplace to see buses using battery systems of 800V or more that have significant shock hazards and potential arc flash hazards, with mechanics having little to no formal electrical education. This trend is happening at conferences across the globe.

If we keep doing continuing education the way we have always done, we will continue a culture that is complacent with reruns of the same old safety class from three years ago. As educators, safety professionals and qualified persons, we are all stewards of the electrical industry and the safety of those in this field. We owe it to ourselves and everyone that depends on our safety to redefine the concept of continuing education with respect to electrical safety. 

Header image: Getty /  Nadezhda Kurbatova

About The Author

Vigstol is an electrical safety consultant for E-Hazard, a provider of electrical safety consulting and training services. He is also the co-host of E-Hazard’s electrical safety podcast “Plugged Into Safety.” For more information, check out





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