“Raise your right hand” Pretty intimidating words – especially if they are said in a court room and the trial is about an injury or death. – and you are on the wrong side of what happened. Let’s face it in the litigious society that we have in the United States, it seems anytime there is an accident where there is a significant economic loss, personal injury or worse – someone died, there will almost certainly be legal actions.
Attorney: “Can you tell us how Mr. Smith died?”
Witness: “There was an electrical explosion. Something went wrong when he was working on the panel. A big fireball shot out that caught his clothing on fire. It was horrible.”
Attorney: “Was Mr. Smith qualified to be performing that particular task?”
Witness: “Joe? Sure he was the most experienced electrician that we had. He had been with the company for over twelve years.”
Attorney: “I did not ask you about his experience or how long he worked there, I asked. was Mr. Smith qualified?
Witness: “Sure he was qualified.”
Attorney: “Then, why wasn’t he wearing arc rated clothing? Why wasn’t the panel placed in an electrically safe working condition?”
Witness: “Arc rated what? Electrically Safe? I don’t know.”
Attorney: “Perhaps we should continue by discussing what a qualified person is.”
Qualified Worker and NFPA 70E
When a person is severely injured or killed, in this example as a result of an electrical accident, legal action frequently follows. This will normally include an exhaustive investigation, forensic analysis, depositions and much more in an attempt to determine exactly what happened. During this process, the victim’s capabilities will be scrutinized.
The line of questioning above occurs all too frequently. The victim may be considered “experienced” but that may not necessarily mean they are “qualified” according to the requirements of NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. During an accident investigation the word “Qualified” becomes a key focal. Exactly what is meant by this word.
The word Qualified as in qualified person(s), qualified employee and qualified contractor is used over 50 times in NFPA 70E and its informative annexes. According to NFPA 70E Article 100 the definition of a qualified person is:
Qualified Person. One who has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.
More specific details about the requirements of being a qualified person can be found in Section 110.2 (D)(1) Qualified Person.
110.2(D)(1) Qualified Person. A qualified person shall be trained and knowledgeable in the construction and operation of equipment or a specific work method and be trained to identify and avoid the electrical hazards that might be present with respect to the equipment or work method.
Dissecting the exact text begins the process of calling into question whether a person is qualified. Asking a few simple questions is where it begins.
· Was the person trained? Let’s see the training record.
· Was the person knowledgeable? How was this determination made?
· Shouldn’t they have identified the hazard?
· Why, didn’t they establish an electrically safe work condition?
Additional requirements found in section 110.2(D)(1) includes that the person must be familiar with the applicable electrical polices and procedures; personal protective equipment, insulating and shielding materials and insulated tools and test equipment. Also, the person must be able to select the appropriate risk control methods which includes selecting the personal protective equipment.
Based on these additional requirements, continued questioning could include:
· Was the person familiar with electrical policies and procedures?
· Was the policy reviewed with them.
· Is there a record of this?
· Were they using personal protective equipment?
Another very important part of the requirements is that a person can be considered qualified with respect to certain equipment and methods but still be unqualified for others. Just because a person knows how to insert a bucket in a motor control center, does not necessarily mean they know how to rack (insert) a draw out circuit breaker in switchgear.
During the investigation the answer to one or more of these types of questions may be an “incorrect answer”. For example, when asked if an electrically safe work condition was established, all too often the answer is no. Upon further questioning, it may be discovered the person was working on energized electrical equipment because they either did not know about establishing an electrically safe work condition or perhaps the worker just got in a hurry. There are may different “incorrect answers.” Another question that often receives an “incorrect answer” is about the PPE that the person was wearing PPE. The answer may be that proper PPE was not used. Or worse, they were never provided PPE.
When answers such as these are provided, the statement that a worker was qualified can quickly be brought into question.
The Whole Truth – Experience vs. Qualified
Although experience can be extremely important, when it comes to electrical safety, being experienced does not always mean being qualified according NFPA 70E.
Make sure electrical workers and those that work around electrical hazards are qualified. This will not only make it easier to answer the question “Was the person qualified?” if your testimony is ever required, it will hopefully help you avoid the gut wrenching electrical accident all together.
Attend an upcoming Arc Flash Calculation Training class by Jim Phillips