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Who's Qualifed to Work Near Electrical Hazards

Only "qualified" persons are permitted to work on or near electrical hazards. This article looks at the scope of the qualification requirement and hazards to which it applies.

The 50 - Volt Threshold
One of the triggers for qualification is voltage level. The common thread in most electrical regulations and standards is the requirement that all electrical circuits and equipment energized at 50 volts or more be guarded, covered, protected or otherwise made inaccessible, except to qualified persons. Only qualified persons, in other words, may have access to energized circuits and equipment.

The 'Exposed' Threshold
Anyone opening industrial panels containing exposed energized components must be qualified. Only qualified persons shall have access to rooms containing exposed energized components unless the components are guarded, covered or protected by barriers or equally effective means. NFPA 70E specifies a minimum approach boundary for an unqualified person of 42 inches to exposed circuits and equipment energized between 50 and 750 volts, unless continuously escorted by a qualified person.

Task Limitation
The access restrictions mean in effect that only qualified persons may perform electrical work on energized equipment. But the regulations go even further in stating that only qualified persons may perform electrical testing. Thus, only a qualified person is allowed to perform the fundamental task of voltage verification and checking to see if a circuit is deenergized.

Lockout/tagout also requires involvement of qualified persons. The person in control of the lockout/tagout procedure must be qualified. A qualified person must verify that the equipment has been properly deenergized before work begins and that it is safe to reenergize the equipment after the lockout/tagout procedure has been completed. In addition, a qualified person must conduct an audit of lockout/tagout procedures at least once a year.

Finally, there are a number of electrical installation standards that are relaxed if a facility utilizes only qualified persons to maintain and repair their electrical systems. These frequently used allowances and exceptions are common in federal regulations and the NEC.®

The Bottom Line
Electrical regulations and standards require anyone (including employees, contractors and service personnel) opening a door or entering a control panel, cabinet, motor control center, panelboard, switchboard, room or vault, that exposes parts energized at 50 volts or more to contact, to be qualified.

Now, let's examine what it means to be "qualified."

What Makes a Person 'Qualified'
To be qualified, a person must be familiar through training or experience with the construction and operation of electrical equipment and trained to recognize and avoid the hazards involved. Some regulations and standards specify that the qualified person must be capable of working safely on energized circuits and be familiar with the proper use of precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment/clothing, insulating/shielding materials and insulated tools.

Three points of clarification:

  • Training can be classroom, on-the-job or a combination of both;
  • An employee who in the course of on-the-job training demonstrates an ability to perform a specific duty safely and who is under the direct supervision of a qualified person is considered to be qualified to perform that duty; and
  • An employee may be qualified to use certain kinds of equipment and methods but unqualified to use others.

Additional Requirements
Some regulations and standards impose additional requirements. For example, MSHA - the U.S. Mines Safety Health Administration - requires a person to pass an MSHA-approved electrical exam and receive electrical safety retraining annually thereafter.

Many states, Canadian provinces, counties and cities require persons performing electrical work, primarily contractors and contract electricians, to be licensed. This generally means the person must have documented electrical experience and pass an electrical exam.

Qualifications in a Nutshell
Plainly stated, to be qualified, a person must either:

1) Be licensed or certified by a recognized entity such as the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), MSHA or another government agency or jurisdiction (the person should also be trained in CPR if medical help is not readily available in the workplace); or
2) Have documented proof of:

  • Safety training on understanding, recognizing and avoiding electrical hazards;
  • Training to determine the nominal voltage and safe working distance around electrical equipment;
  • Training in the selection, use and care of personal protective equipment, clothing, insulating tools, test equipment, barriers, etc. necessary to perform the task(s);
  • Knowledge of the equipment operation and electrical installation;
  • Training to perform task(s) safely; and
  • Training in CPR if medical help is not readily available in the workplace.

Qualified Person vs. Qualified Electrician

There's a difference between being a qualified person and being a qualified electrician. Qualified electricians must have:

  • A good general understanding of electricity;
  • A broad base of technical electrical training, electrical safety training and actual experience performing electrical tasks;
  • The capability to perform a wide variety of electrical tasks related to their work environment;
  • Appropriate PPE to guard against the electrical hazards they encounter in the workplace and the knowledge of how to use and care for it; and
  • Training on the capabilities of their test equipment and how to use and care for it.

A qualified person, by contrast, need only be trained to perform a limited number of tasks safely - possibly only one. This person must be safety trained to understand, recognize and avoid the electrical hazards associated with the specific task, understand their limitations in performing the task, be equipped with the proper PPE and test equipment for the task and know when and how to use and care for the PPE and equipment.

Qualification to Perform Specific Tasks

There is only one regulation that specifically requires work to be done by a qualified electrician: the installation of resistance welders under Section 1910.255 of the OSHA electrical safety standard. Other electrical tasks can be performed by either a qualified person or electrician. There are, in other words, many electrical tasks around a workplace that a non-electrician employee can perform as long as the employee is a qualified person. OSHA identifies the kind of employees who are most likely to be asked to perform these tasks (and who will thus at least need the training required of a qualified person):

  • Blue Collar Supervisors
  • Electricians
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineers
  • Mechanics and Repairers
  • Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers
  • Painters
  • Industrial Machine Operators
  • Riggers and Roustabouts
  • Material Handling Equipment Operators
  • Stationary Engineers
  • Electrical and Electronic Technicians
  • Welders