Two Simple Words: Who is a qualified person?

Shutterstock / Patrimonio Designs Ltd.
Shutterstock / Patrimonio Designs Ltd.
Published On
May 14, 2021

Searching the term “NEC Article 100 qualified person” will turn up several million hits, and different organizations provide slightly different definitions. OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1910 (general industry) considers a qualified person someone with certification and industry experience. OSHA 29 CFR 1926 (construction) gives a bit more detail about the certification and mentions that a qualified person must demonstrate abilities related to the work being done. NEC Article 100 uses the skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations as well as having received the safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. NFPA 70E takes it a step further by adding “demonstrated” as in OSHA 29 CFR 1926.

When connecting an instrument in order to do a PQ audit or troubleshooting task, who determines what the required skills and knowledge are, and who verifies that it has been demonstrated and to what standard? The usual answer is the employer.

However, many people who carry out such PQ tasks work solo. A significant number are self-employed electrical contractors, but some people don’t have that level of training. PQ monitors used to come with extensive manuals and several pages of warnings and cautions, which few people ever read. What users wanted was a quick reference guide, or even better, an instrument that configures and sets itself up regardless of how the voltage connectors and current probes were placed on the conductors.

Where is the safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved, which don’t go away because the instrument is smarter? User guides warn about deenergizing the circuit before connecting, but nearly everyone has heard the mandate to not interrupt the production process (except during the annual maintenance shutdown period). I witnessed this at a data center, which not only would never shut down, but would only allow access between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when data traffic was the lightest, just in case something went awry. Something going wrong can result in more than lost data.

The instrument manufacturers made changes to try to increase safety. The voltage clip leads can be insulated except inside the jaws and can include a longer plunger-type handle grip that keeps fingers further away. Using proper PPE would mean gloves would keep the user’s fingers and arms much safer, but I can count on my fingers the number of times I saw PPE properly worn.

Clamp-on current probes evolved into Rogowski coil probes that are flexible and have no metal exposed, as do the jaws of clamp-on current transformers. This helps to minimize the need to squeeze the probe jaws in between conductors, especially old ones that cause your to hold your breath and hope that the movement doesn’t cause a problem.

However, these measures don’t eliminate the need for the user to be smarter, not just the instrument. One user went out and bought larger clips to go on the breaker bolts because the provided voltage clips wouldn’t open wide enough. The person then proceeded to not use the rubber boots that came with the larger clips. After clipping the instrument leads to the larger clips, a large and damaging fireball resulted from the lead wires pulling to uninsulated clips in contact with each other. This occurred while a supervisor was sitting watching with the instrument’s user guide open. It seems like no one in that scenario met the conditions of a qualified person, and the injuries and damage were substantial.

I am not aware of any published statistics on accidents occurring specifically when using PQ monitors. Being in the industry for 40-plus years, I know there have been accidents, though I have not heard of any fatalities. Clearly, there is a need to increase the training of users on what it is to be a qualified person.

Manufacturers offer training on how to use their instruments and how to interpret the data. Clearly, they can’t restrict an unqualified user from operating a PQ monitor, nor a qualified person from being in a hurry and forgetting or ignoring what they know should be done. Nor can they provide the training and demonstrated experience for one to be a qualified person because they aren’t qualified to do that. Raising awareness and a stronger campaign to lead users to the sources that can provide information doesn’t cost, but it can go a long way to making our industry safer.

About the Author

Richard P. Bingham

Power Quality Columnist

Richard P. Bingham, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.248.4393.

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