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How to Stay safe (and certified) while doing electrical work

NFPA 70E (the National Electrical Code) and the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) each call for “qualified persons” to perform electrical work. Whether you’re qualified isn’t a matter of job title, or even of professional licensing or certification. Instead, qualification is a matter of demonstrating the skills and knowledge needed to construct, operate, and install electrical equipment, and of being trained to identify electrical hazards and mitigate their risk.

Should You Seek Qualification?

Whether you need electrical training or certification depends on your job. Generally, if you’re working on electrical conductors or circuit parts of 50 volts or more, you need training on NFPA 70E. This includes general maintenance professionals, HVAC technicians, multi-craft personnel, and others who occasionally deal with electrical components but aren’t electricians. The reason, OSHA says, is that maintenance and repair professionals often aren’t aware of the electrical hazards they face.

The most common electricity-related injuries are caused by: 

  • Contact with power lines.
  • Lack of ground-fault protection.
  • A missing path to ground.
  • Improperly used equipment.
  • Improperly used extension and flexible cords.

Qualified persons must have skills and knowledge about the equipment they are working on and understand the manufacturer’s operating recommendations. They also must understand how the electrical system works, how it pertains to that equipment, and the associated hazards. Specifically, that includes understanding:

  • Nominal voltage.
  • Voltage testing.
  • Approach distances (including arc hazards).
  • Safe work zones (including protective equipment.

Employers Should Offer Training

Because the specific requirements vary by job and worksite, it is up to employers to outline the specific requirements for qualified persons. Employers, therefore, are responsible for providing electrical safety training and for implementing safe work practices and procedures.

5 Steps You Can Take to Lower the Risk of Kitchen Fires

The NFPA and OSHA each emphasize hands-on experience tailored to the specific hazards workers face in their jobs. OSHA’s letters of interpretation (most recently, in 2004) advise against relying only on training videos. Although online material can be valuable, classes also should feature hands-on exercises and access to a live person onsite, online, or by phone to answer questions immediately. At the end of the class, trainees should demonstrate their skills in order to pass.

As a foundation, the NFPA recommends developing an ongoing electrical safety program based on its Certified Electrical Safety Worker (CESW) program. Other organizations also offer training classes on NFPA 70E for electricians and professionals in other industries who want to become “qualified persons” in electrical safety.

Completing CESW (or other certifications) still doesn’t make you a “qualified person.” Certification, however, is one step in ensuring that maintenance electricians and others who work with electrical equipment and circuits can do so safely.

For an employee, becoming a “qualified person” simply means that, when it comes to electrical safety as outlined in NFPA 70E and your worksite, you know what you’re doing. You have both the knowledge and the demonstrated skills to keep yourself and your colleagues safe when dealing with electricity.

For employers, providing electrical training to your installers and maintenance personnel is an investment in safety that reduces their risks, and yours.