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Qualified vs. Unqualified Electrical Workers

When it comes to workplace safety, federal and state regulations and programs are put in place to protect businesses, workers and the public from a wide variety of hazards. Some professions offer more hazards and dangers than others, but all rely on hiring workers who have the proper training and qualifications imperative to maintaining a safe and productive work environment.

Some of the most important professions that requires strict adherence to a variety of state and federal regulations are skilled electricians and electrical workers. Working with electricity and electrical equipment can be a dangerous hazard for an unqualified worker, and could result in injury or death. Electricity is a powerful force that has the ability to power our homes and equipment, but can lead to fires and injury if not managed correctly.

For many companies, following all of the regulations can be a complicated undertaking, and even confusing at times. There are many essential guidelines to follow, which include proper equipment, clothing, insulation and tools, along with training and assessing potential hazards. One of the best methods to ensure your business and your workers are all on the same page is to create a comprehensive electrical safety program that can address these hazards.

A safety program will not only protect your business from expensive lawsuits and fines, but will also help you ensure the safety of your employees. The first step in achieving an analysis of all potential hazards is to do a self audit, as well as understanding whether or not your workers are properly trained and qualified to meet the requirements. What determines qualifications in electrical workers will be explored more in depth later on. Understanding the regulations first is key to knowing what kind of training and qualifications a worker will need.

What Are the Regulations and Who Enforces Them?

As mentioned above, there are both federal and state regulations, and in some cases local regulations, that need to be followed when operating your business and hiring workers. Qualified and unqualified electrical workers are determined by several different requirements. The regulations are guidelines to help ensure the workers designated for specific tasks have the needed skills and training to perform the job in a safe manner and address all of the potential electrical hazards they may encounter.

For the federal regulations, most companies will need to assess the Code of Federal Regulations under Part 1910 of Title 29. This section of the Code of Federal Regulations addresses all electrical utilities and industrial applications. For those working in construction, Part 1926 of the same title section may also apply.

In addition to the guidelines set in the CFR documentation, companies must also take a look at the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, as well as the National Electrical Code, or NEC. Each document outlines several workplace safety standards that are federally enforced. For any other applications, such as electrical utilities, assessing the guidelines covered by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers as well as the National Electrical Safety Code may be required.

These federal guidelines, while very important, are not the final step in ensuring that all safety regulations and requirements are being followed. State-funded agencies the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, are imperative to maintaining the enforcement of these federal guidelines and application of these safety standards.

Responsibilities of OSHA - enforce workplace standards, identify electrical hazards, assess risk, assess how to select or train workers

If you are unsure if your business meets the requirements and standards set forth by the federal guidelines, consulting with an official from a state inspection office, or OSHA, is an excellent way of identifying any potential problems, which in the long term could be detrimental to the operation of your business. State agencies and OSHA will recommend the best way to address any potential issues and provide you with the documentation needed to get your business, and in some cases your workers, in compliance with all of these regulations.

OSHA’s primary responsibility is to enforce these workplace standards to indentify electrical hazards, assess risks and also, most importantly, how to select or train workers who are qualified to handle the job. OSHA offers a long list of training guidelines to help your workers meet the many requirements. This can include in-class training or on-the-job training to help workers use the proper clothing, equipment and safety procedures and to understand other complex topics such as arc flash protection and assessing hazard risks.

Workplace Regulations and Worker Qualifications

Qualified workers are considered by Article 100 of the National Fire Protection Association 70E as an individual who possess both the skills and knowledge for proper construction and operation of electrical equipment as well as having received the needed safety training to recognize and avoid the potential hazards involved.

In this sense, the guideline is very broad and open-ended, but for good reason. Every specific task will differ from worker to worker and from business to business. However, it is important that the worker is trained on how to perform the job properly and also has the training necessary to recognize and avoid the dangers present.

For electricians, hazards may be different for those tasked with operating electrical equipment. Because of the wide variety of job designations, you can classify your workers into three different categories for determining if your workforce is qualified.

Qualified electrical workers meet all of the training requirements set by the NFPA 70E and OSHA, and can be considered authorized to perform the job correctly. On the other end, you could have a qualified employee who is more specialized, and only qualified to perform a specific task under the training requirements.

Unqualified electrical workers are individuals who have not received the proper safety training or safety guidelines to recognize and avoid hazards. However, they still may have all the skills needed to perform the job correctly, but need proper training to meet the regulatory requirements.

If a circuit or equipment has 50 volts or higher, it needs to be guarded, closed off and protected from everyone who is not a qualified electrical worker

Electrical regulations in the work environment are often specific based on voltages. If a circuit or equipment has 50 volts or higher, it needs to be guarded, closed off and protected from everyone who is not a qualified electrical worker. NFPA 70E demands all unqualified workers are required to be at least four feet from any exposed circuit or equipment ranging from 50 to 750 volts. In some cases, if a qualified electrical worker is present, an unqualified worker may be present under proper supervision.

In addition, electrical testing must always be conducted by qualified professionals and not by unqualified electrical workers who do not have the same level of training. Depending on the duties of the worker, some regulations also demand the individual has a working knowledge of electrical circuits and specific equipment. However, a qualified worker may be considered unqualified for a different task if they don’t have the proper training.

It is important to remember that just because a worker is considered qualified for one task, they may not be qualified for other electrical tasks. In some cases, training may not be enough to meet the standards. Sometimes, local licenses and certificates indicating advanced knowledge of electrical work may be needed to perform certain tasks. In certain jobs, workers’ unions may require specific training in addition to the NFPA and OSHA standards.

Technical Skills Development Services training programs are custom-designed to adhere to OSHA law and NFPA 70E guidelines, while addressing your company’s individual needs. Below we’ll take a brief look at these employee designations to better understand the difference between qualified and unqualified workers.

Qualified Electrical Workers

The most technically skilled and trained employees handling electrical components and equipment are considered your most qualified. They are the workers who have the experience and skills needed to handle highly energized electrical equipment as well as have the required knowledge set by NFPA 70E and OSHA.

Qualified personnel are familiar with all of the proper procedures and precautionary techniques for working with electricity and electrical equipment. They understand the proper protective equipment, arc flash insulation and shielding, and methods that unqualified workers need to learn. These workers are the ones capable of working with electrical conductors and circuits at 50 volts or higher.

To understand whether your workers meet these qualifications, you should ensure they understand the skills and techniques for distinguishing exposed electrical conductors, energized circuits and circuit parts from equipment. They should also be well aware of the hazards present and how to avoid them. Qualified electrical workers are able to use multimeters to troubleshoot electrical problems within a device, understand approved voltage reading devices to check for safe working conditions, as well as a wide range of tasks making them capable of being exposed to energized components and devices.

Qualified Electrical Workers That Are Task-Specific

Some workers may not meet all of the requirements or have all of the technical knowledge needed to be considered qualified for some of the more hazardous tasks. In this case, a worker may still be qualified, but only for task-specific operations.

Some workers may not meet all of the requirements or have all of the technical knowledge needed to be considered qualified for a more hazardous task

Task-specific qualified electrical workers are simply a subgroup of employees who do not have the specific training, procedure knowledge or protection knowledge of their more advanced colleagues. Task-specific workers are not exposed to energized electrical parts, which mitigates their overall risk. They do still have to be aware of many of the hazards, such as arc flashes and arc blasts. For example, a worker who needs to turn on the power for a specific type of equipment still needs training on the proper use and safety measures to operate it safely.

Task-specific workers may need to operate a wide variety of machines, and in some cases, conduct maintenance and repair processes. Qualified workers can perform these tasks by following the training and procedures required for maintaining safe working practices. This includes understanding the proper use of personal protective equipment.

Unqualified Electrical Workers

For everyone else working at your company, they will fall into the unqualified electrical worker category. This can include everyone from office administration to contracted employees. These employees are not technically skilled, trained or equipped to handle any of the tasks associated with electricity or electrical equipment mentioned above. It is imperative that the business follows all safety guidelines to prevent employees from being exposed to energized components or circuits, and that they are not permitted to operate electrical equipment that could result in arc flashes and arc blasts.

How Do I Ensure My Workers Are Qualified?

Determining qualifications is extremely dependent on the regulations and the overall work you need performed at your business. Many companies may wonder how they will meet these complex regulatory standards and ensure their workforce is capable and competent and able to assess risks properly.

For your business, the number one goal is to have the most skilled and well-trained workforce possible to meet these standards. Company managers should review their employee qualifications before and after hiring if the job duties change. By working with OSHA and other agencies, you can better implement an electrical workplace safety program and help your workers find the training needed to do the job.

Documentation of all of these requirements is essential before determining what kind of knowledge and training your workers will need. When conducting your audit and consultation with OSHA, take note of who your most qualified workers are and if you can afford to offer extra on-the-job training or outsourced training options to better your employees.

Each employee should have a clear record of their own qualifications and be able to verify they are capable and competent for performing the needed duties of the job. While some of your employees may have had proper training in the past, it’s also beneficial to consider training refreshers if new equipment or job duties are going to be required of workers who may need an update.

Training Options to Make Sure Workers Are Qualified

Training your employees may seem like a daunting task, but there is a wide variety of options that can help on every level. From in-classroom sessions to on-the-job experience, workers are versatile and are able to learn if shown the right path.

While NFPA 70E and OSHA all offer some level of training documentation, and clearly define their requirements, business demands vary, and these are often too broad and open-ended to be effective for everyone. They are beneficial to understanding the basics, but developing a more comprehensive training program to suit your specific needs is more advantageous in the long run.

Customized training programs will allow workers to identify the hazards associated with tasks they will encounter

With an individualized training program designed specifically to meet your business requirements, you can ensure that your employees are getting the critical knowledge to perform the job efficiently and safely. Customized training programs will allow workers to identify the hazards associated with the tasks they will encounter. It’s important to understand what skills and knowledge your employees will need and help fill in any additional gaps.

Any qualified electrical worker should have at least two to five days of training a year to help maintain their skill level. Even experienced workers who get out of practice may need a refresher to keep their skills up-to-date. Planning a comprehensive training program can greatly reduce or eliminate the costs of lawsuits, regulatory fines and workplace injuries.

Ensuring your qualified and unqualified workers have been trained properly can be the difference between meeting OSHA regulations and breaking the law. Technical Skills Development Services specializes in designing and delivering hazard-specific training that complies with OSHA law. Please contact us today to learn more.