ARTICLE

Crossing the Restricted Approach Boundary: The Role of Qualified Persons in Electrical Safety


The term “qualified” is bandied about often in the safety world, and it can mean different things depending on the context. For example, in the OSHA Construction standard (29 CFR 1926) a “qualified” person is defined as “one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.” This definition stands true in the case of fall protection, confined space entry, trenching and excavations. However, when it comes to the second cause of fatalities on construction sites, the definition is missing a key component.

Every year, contact with live electrical parts proves fatal for 143 construction workers, making it the number two cause of fatalities on construction sites behind falls and securing its spot in OSHA’s Fatal Four Initiative. With the advancements in electrical safety technology we have seen over the years, why do we continue to see such a high number of fatalities from electricity? Perhaps it has to do with the language around the roles and responsibilities when it comes to electrical safety and the way the word “qualified” is used in NFPA 70E compared to how it is used in other OSHA standards. Construction workers could be getting too close to live electrical components under the guise that they are “qualified.”

According to NFPA 70E, the leading authority on electrical safety, a Qualified Person is “one who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify the hazards and reduce the associated risk.” Unlike the OSHA definition of “qualified,” the NFPA 70E definition explicitly calls for the individual to have received safety training specific to the electrical hazards that they could face. In addition to requiring safety training for all Qualified Persons, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E) also states that only Qualified Persons can cross the Restricted Approach Boundary into the area where the risk for electrical shock or electrocution is highest. The reason for this is the Qualified Person would be expected to have a level of training and personal protective equipment (PPE) commensurate with the hazard to help them work safely.

Just like it takes more than an understanding of electrical equipment and installations to be considered a Qualified Person by NFPA 70E’s definition, an electrical safety training class alone won’t do the trick, either. Classes advertised as “Qualified Person Training” should be approached with the understanding that course completion alone is not enough to attain that designation. Also, it should be noted that it is not the instructor of the Electrical Safety Training course you take who designates you as a Qualified Person, it is your employer. Additionally, you can be qualified to work on some pieces of electrical equipment but not others depending on your employer’s training program.

Electrical safety standards can be difficult to navigate, but the experts at Wesco are here to help. From Electrical Safety and NFPA 70E training to Arc Flash Risk Assessments and PPE, we have the solutions to keep your employees informed, safe and productive. Contact your local Wesco representative to learn more.


Jared Meyer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ines Sira, Vice President and General Manager, Global Safety, Wesco
Ines Sira joined Wesco in 2021 as the Vice President and General Manager, Global Safety. She is an executive with two decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. Prior to joining Wesco, Ines led various businesses at 3M where she was accountable for the P&Ls of portfolios in highly regulated markets such as safety, aerospace and healthcare.