Attorney: “Can you tell us how Mr. Smith died?”
Witness: “There was an electrical explosion. Something went wrong when he was working on the panel. A big fireball shot out that caught his clothing on fire. It was horrible.”
Attorney: “Was Mr. Smith qualified to be performing that particular task?”
Witness: “Joe? Sure. He was the most experienced electrician that we had. He had been with the company for more than 12 years.”
Attorney: “I did not ask you about his experience or how long he worked there. I asked if Mr. Smith was qualified.”
Witness: “Sure, he was qualified.”
Attorney: “Then, why wasn’t he wearing arc-rated clothing? Why wasn’t the panel placed in an electrically safe work condition?”
Witness: “Arc-rated what? Electrically safe? I don’t know.”
Attorney: “Perhaps we should continue by discussing what a qualified person is.”
Qualified worker and NFPA 70E
When a person is severely injured or killed, legal action frequently follows. This normally includes an exhaustive investigation, forensic analysis, depositions and more in an attempt to determine exactly what happened. During the process, the victim’s capabilities are often scrutinized.
The above line of questioning occurs all too frequently. Victims may be considered experienced, but that does not necessarily mean they are qualified, according to the requirements of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. During an accident investigation, the word “qualified” becomes a key focal point. What exactly does it mean?
NFPA 70E and its informative annexes use the words “qualified,” as in “qualified person(s),” “qualified employee” and “qualified contractor” more than 50 times. According to NFPA 70E Article 100, the definition of a qualified person is, “One who has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.”
More specific details about the requirements of being a qualified person can be found in Section 110.2(D)(1): “110.2(D)(1) Qualified Person. A qualified person shall be trained and knowledgeable in the construction and operation of equipment or a specific work method and be trained to identify and avoid the electrical hazards that might be present with respect to the equipment or work method.”
Dissecting the text begins the process of questioning whether a person is qualified.
• Was the person trained?
• Was the person knowledgeable? How was this determination made?
• Shouldn’t the person have identified the hazard?
• Why didn’t the person establish an electrically safe work condition?
Additional requirements found in Section 110.2(D)(1) state the person must be familiar with the applicable electrical policies and procedures: personal protective equipment (PPE), insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools and test equipment. Also, the person must be able to select the appropriate risk-control methods, which includes selecting the PPE.
Based on these additional requirements, continued questioning could include the following:
• Was the person familiar with electrical policies and procedures?
• Did this person review the policy?
• Is there a record of this?
• Was the person using PPE?
A person can also be considered qualified with respect to certain equipment and methods but unqualified for others. If a person knows how to insert a bucket in a motor control center, he or she does not necessarily know how to rack (insert) a draw-out circuit breaker in switchgear.
During an investigation, the answer to one or more of these types of questions may be negative. For example, when asked if an electrically safe work condition was established, all too often the answer is no. Upon further review, it may be discovered the person was working on energized electrical equipment because he or she either did not know how to establish an electrically safe work condition or, perhaps, the worker just was in a hurry.
Another question that often receives a negative answer is whether the person was wearing PPE. The answer may be that proper PPE was not used, or worse, the worker was never provided PPE.
When answers such as these are provided, the statement that a worker was qualified can quickly be brought into question.
The whole truth and nothing but: experienced vs. qualified
Although experience can be extremely important, when it comes to electrical safety, being experienced does not always mean being qualified, according to NFPA 70E. Ensure electrical workers and those who work around electrical hazards are truly qualified. This will not only make it easier to answer this question if testimony is ever required, but also it will help you avoid the electrical accident altogether.