Christopher Coache

NFPA 70E Series: A qualified person is not as difficult as many make it be.

Blog Post created by Christopher Coache Employee on Dec 20, 2016

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One of the most frequent issues faced when responding to questions regarding NFPA 70E® is that it does not tell someone exactly what to do. Why doesn’t the standard tell me that I have an arc flash hazard? Why doesn’t the standard tell me how to train my employees or what I should be training them about? Why doesn’t the standard tell me who should sign the energized work permit? Why doesn’t the standard tell me who is qualified to do the work? These questions stem from a desire to have a cookbook on what exactly to do rather than thinking of what is trying to be accomplished when it comes to worker safety.

Qualification is not only equipment and manufacturer based but also task based. No one and no standard can determine 100% of the worker qualifications needed for 100% of the potential tasks on 100% of electrical equipment in 100% of the possible installation locations along with 100% of the potential outcomes, hazards or risks associated with 100% of the possible situations 100% of the time. You must determine the most appropriate way to qualify your employee to conduct the task that you will assign for your specific situation.

A lot of what NFPA 70E requires is based on a worker who is a qualified person. This is someone who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify and avoid the hazards involved. Seems clear to me when I consider what NFPA 70E is trying to accomplish. That is electrical safety in the workplace. Everyone may have their own theory of what qualified means. Here is mine.

NFPA 70E addresses electrical safety. So the first thing is that the person needing qualification is interacting with or is around electrical equipment. If nothing is electrical there is no need to use NFPA 70E. Are they knowledgeable about the electrical equipment they are interacting with? An administrative assistant who turns the lights on at a breaker each day should at least be aware of what is involved with the operation of the equipment in that regard. They may not need to know as much as the electrician who works within the panel but some knowledge of the equipment is necessary.

The next is demonstrated skills. Keeping with the assistant turning on the lights, shouldn’t they know ON from OFF? Maybe the panel is full, shouldn’t they be able to show which breaker is for the lights? The electrician better demonstrate more along the lines of how to disconnect the main, swap out a breaker and establish an electrically safe work condition.

Does the assistant need any training on the installation? Probably nothing specific beyond what has already been shown. But they should have knowledge on the construction. A panel typically has a hinged cover. To open it, know which way it swings, etc. requires some concept of its construction. Once again the electrician better know more such as where the busbar is, whether there is an internal terminal block cover, what the grounding scheme is or what power sources feed the panel.

The assistant should be trained to recognize and avoid hazards. The assistant should trained to recognize that crackling, arcing or a hot switch on the breaker could be problem. They should know the potential danger if a breaker slot was left uncovered. They should be trained to know if the breaker should be thrown or not in these cases. They will have recognized and avoided the hazard. The electrician of course is exposed to more hazards and must have a more detailed training.

Think about it in a broad context. Shouldn’t any person doing any task have the training to do that task, to know something about the equipment they are interacting with and know how not to get injured? Seems simple to me. I most likely would consider the assistant as qualified for operating that circuit breaker to turn on the lights each morning in that specific panel. I would not recognize them to turn something else off in that panel or at another panel until I qualified them to do that. (This assistant is not really a qualified person under NFPA 70E but an unqualified worker who has been shown what is necessary for them to conduct the task safely. It was just to prove a point). The electrician would be qualified to work in that panel but not in a piece of switchgear without additionally being qualified for that. Just what the definition says.

Next time: Are you the employee whose safety is put at risk by working on energized electrical equipment?

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