It’s no secret that working around electricity can be dangerous. In fact, in the last 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 2,000 fatal and more than 24,000 non-fatal electrical injuries.
To help better protect workers from the devastating consequences of electrocution and arc flash, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) develops and regularly updates its guidelines for creating a safe electrical work environment. The most recent versions of NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® outline increasingly stringent qualifications for working on or around electrical equipment, and they include more robust training requirements for electrical workers.
Here is what your facility needs to know to comply with the latest standards and to ensure your workers have the skills and knowledge needed to stay safe on the job.
The New Definition of Qualified Worker:
NFPA has always recognized the importance of determining a worker’s qualifications to work on or around electrical equipment. Specifically, the standard stipulates that workers should be trained to recognize and avoid electrical hazards.
In the 2012 version of the standard, NFPA modified the definition of a qualified person to include being knowledgeable about (and not just trained in) the construction or operation of equipment or specific work methods.
NFPA 70E 2015 took the definition a step further. It mandates that qualified persons must demonstrate skills related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment. Specifically, the qualified person must demonstrate the ability to use:
- Special precautionary techniques
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) including arc flash suits
- Insulating and shielding materials
- Insulated tools and test equipment
Demonstration of such skill sets can be accomplished through an annual observation or audit, similar to the annual audit requirements for other safety-related programs, such as lock out/tag out. In fact, the new standard indicates that such audits must be performed at least once a year (see below for more information).
NFPA 70E 2015 additionally dictates that qualified electrical workers permitted to work within the limited approach boundary of exposed energized electrical conductors and circuit parts must have additional training in minimum approach distances.
Keeping Workers Up To Speed:
Once a worker has been deemed qualified to work on or around electrical equipment, it’s up to facility owners to ensure the worker’s skills stay sharp. NFPA outlines specific requirements for the type of training that must be provided to these employees, including:
- Regular retraining – Per the standard, workers must be retrained at least every three years. Additional training must be provided whenever new procedures or practices are introduced or when an audit indicates a need for retraining.
- Instructor-led training – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has indicated a preference for instructor-led as opposed to web-based training, and NFPA stipulates that retraining (not just refresher training) must occur as least every three years.
- Annual worker inspections – Every year, facilities are responsible for inspecting workers (including field work) to ensure each employee is complying with safety-related work practices.
- Audits and documentation – All training must be documented and training programs must be audited at least once every three years to ensure compliance with the standard. If training deficiencies are indentified by an audit, revisions must be made to bring all elements of the training program into compliance.
One Qualification Does Not Fit All:
It is important to note that a worker can be considered qualified with respect to certain equipment and methods, but still be unqualified in other situations. Additionally, even if an employer hires a worker who has been considered qualified by another employer, the new employer must still verify the skill sets, provide additional site-specific training, and closely monitor the new employee’s activities before considering the worker qualified.
Qualified Workers Know How to Protect Themselves and Your Business:
Compliance with the latest versions of NFPA 70E will likely require facilities to make some changes to the way they qualify and train employees. However, investing in a robust worker training program can pay off in more ways than one. Not only are well-trained workers less likely to fall victim to the devastating consequences of electrical accidents, they can also help prevent damage to your equipment, disruptions to your business, and costly fines. By complying with training standards, you’ll be doing your part to better protect your people and your bottom line.