How to determine the best electrical safety practices for your plant

Objective and measurable techniques to determine best safety practices on electrical systems.

By Robert S. LeRoy

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Frequently asked questions

I hire qualified electricians, why do I need to monitor their every move?

You likely were diligent to hire technically competent electrical workers. Qualification ensures they can recognize and avoid injury from electrical hazards. It is the employer’s responsibility to train workers on specific facility hazards, ensure understanding, and monitor compliance after training has been given. These three steps must be effective, timely, and documented to keep workers safe and for you to comply with regulations and standards.

You won’t be monitoring their every move all the time. NFPA 70E establishes “periodic monitoring” as at least once a year. That may not be enough to satisfactorily know they will work according to your electrical safety program. The employer’s electrical safety program must direct electrical activity where the electrical hazard exists. Do your work procedures include steps on working safely and have pre-work checks on all protective equipment? What documentation do you have to show this process and worker proficiency?

I provided my workers with the PPE. What more do I need to do?

How do you know these workers can inspect the PPE on a daily basis to determine its condition? Do you have a process in place to track any required re-testing or re-certification of PPE? Who is responsible and accountable for this?

Who can do this monitoring of electrical work practices?

First things first. Do you have written work procedures that your workers will follow to perform work on or near energized electrical conductors or parts? If so, then anyone who has been trained on how to watch for certain actions and how to conduct an objective interview in a non-threatening way should be able to monitor and audit.

It’s best to have specific persons, not always electrical persons, but employees trained to do this monitoring, so that it may occur on a more timely or consistent basis.

Along with the in-house observers, an independent outside party is useful in monitoring not only specific work tasks, but in auditing the entire process in an unbiased objective format. In this way a company is assured of compliance, unbiased reporting, and monitoring of the overall electrical safety program, all conditions prescribed by NFPA 70E.

Companies must acknowledge hazards that exist in their facilities and operations and agree upon the safe work practices employees will employ when working on or near them. Training then follows to ensure employee knowledge and monitoring processes established to ensure compliance. Variations of this model exist worldwide.

The mandate, problem, and solution techniques can be used on electrical safe work practices. It should be recognized that this model could be adapted for any aspect of an employer’s workforce.

If employees are a company’s most valuable asset, a natural follow-up would be to prepare, preserve, and protect the human asset with the same vigor that is afforded the mechanical equipment those humans work with on a daily basis. Both the human and hardware must be correctly selected for an intended outcome and maintained for optimal performance. Where humans are involved, optimal performance begins and ends with safety.

The basis for monitoring safe work compliance is rooted in the Occupational Safety and Health Act with techniques described in NFPA 70E. These two documents become the operating manuals for the human asset, the employee, in which every supervisor must be well versed. They provide both the requirements and compliance processes for safe and efficient operation and outcome. Workers must first be qualified for the task and then monitored to ensure their daily work habits reflect the training elements used to determine their qualification status while following company-provided work procedures.

The benchmark of effective training and workforce development must meet three interconnected requirements:

  • targeted to the topic (equipment and work practice)
  • measured for understanding
  • monitored for compliance.

In recent years, training models have evolved by adapting to client’s scheduling and budgeting restraints with a diligent eye on the effects on the company’s overall financial health. Training providers, whether in-house or outsourced, continue to develop new delivery models that ensure training effectiveness and the best return for the investment.

The employment process determines a worker’s ability to perform employer-directed tasks or the need for initial training so that the worker may achieve the necessary level of documented independent work performance. Technical competence is a foundational aspect to consider when determining the qualification of any worker.

In a previous position, I was tasked with staffing outages, or turnarounds, in an electrical generating plant. These are very work-intense and time-constrained projects endured by many large industrial-type facilities, and they require great planning and preparation to achieve a safe, successful, and reliable result. These annual projects typically occur in low electrical load times of the year, spring and fall, throughout the industry. After a particularly negative result the previous year, I’d decided to give a basic-level electrical test to all applicants, even though they may have had extensive experience performing this work in the past. To my chagrin, or maybe not, it was discovered that only 22% of the temporary workers could pass this basic test. To ensure some level of fairness, I also gave the test to the full-time company employees, half of which had less than five years’ experience. Only one of the 23 tested individuals possessed an electrical license or had experience in taking similar type testing. Licensing of electrical workers within a company maintenance environment is not a mandate in many states as was the case with the state in which this occurred. All of the company employees passed the test.

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