Unqualified workers can drive up the number of arc flash incidents and create complications for employers
Unqualified workers are a major risk factor for companies that either hire and retain their own full-time electricians, or that outsource projects to outside contractors, not all of whom are qualified to safely manage electrical wiring and/or the repair of electrical equipment. The need for well-trained workers is particularly critical to avoiding electrical incidents such as shock or arc flash. An arc flash occurs when current passes through air between two or more conducting surfaces (or, from conductors to ground) and produces temperature as high as 35,000 degrees.
Capable of causing severe burns, hearing loss, eye injuries, skin damage from blasts of molten metal, lung damage and other blast injuries, arc flash accidents are a serious concern for employers. To avoid these accidents, OSHA says electrical servicing and repair tasks should be limited to workers who have been fully trained on electrical hazards and procedures, that is, “qualified” workers.
Qualified Versus Unqualified: What’s the Difference?
According to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.399, a qualified person is one who has received training in and has demonstrated skills and knowledge in the construction and operation of electric equipment and installations and the hazards involved. Whether an employee is considered qualified or not depends on various circumstances. For example, it is possible and, in fact, likely for an individual to be considered "qualified" with regard to certain equipment in the workplace, but "unqualified" as to other equipment.
Consider the employee who is undergoing on-the-job training and who, in the course of such training, has demonstrated an ability to perform duties safely at his or her level of training. That means the person has:
- Completed required training on the hazards of electrical equipment and operations
- Been trained in (and is experienced in) working with electricity
- Understands and recognizes electrical hazards (such as shock and arc flash) and how to avoid them
- Can distinguish exposed energized parts from other parts of electrical equipment
- Can read and interpret a facility’s electrical one-line diagram
- Is able to determine nominal voltage of exposed live parts
- Can determine approach distances when working on electricity
- Understands the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Knows lockout/tagout procedures
- Understands the facility’s electrical safety plan
An unqualified person, on the other hand, has some electrical knowledge/experience, but doesn’t possess the knowledge and expertise that he or she needs to be able to work on energized parts, and, as such, must limit work to de-energized parts, OSHA notes. The unqualified person also lacks experience and training in identifying and preventing the electrical hazards associated with working on or near exposed energized parts.
NFPA 70E on Qualified Workers
A national consensus safety standard that identifies safe work practices to protect workers from the hazards of electricity—including electric shock and electrocution, arc flash and arc blast, the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70E requires that only a qualified person perform work on or near exposed and energized electrical conductors or circuit parts. The same requirements apply when companies use outside contractors to work on electrical systems.
“Although contractors may state that their personnel are qualified to work on electrical systems, they may not be qualified from OSHA's standpoint. Simply being an electrician is not enough. The person must receive the proper training, ideally from a professional instructor.”
Put simply, unqualified workers have little or no experience identifying and properly working in and around potential electrical hazards, and can—when deployed to tasks that they aren’t qualified to handle—create unnecessary risks for the companies that either employ them or subcontract work to them.
To avoid these risks, always use an electrical safe work program to prevent electrical shock or arc flash injuries, keep unqualified workers away from energized equipment or circuits, and train qualified workers on the correct procedures when working on energized equipment or circuits.