Voice of Experience: Qualified and Task-Specific Electrical Worker Training
The revised OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 standard has now been in place for three years. In making the revisions, OSHA replaced older, passive language that left much to be understood with more objective language that clarifies the meaning and intent of the regulation. The standard is now easier to understand and sets the expectations for employers and employees.
There were some major changes made to the standard, as we all know. Several more subtle changes also were included and have been discussed much less, but they still have had a significant impact on the regulation. In this installment of “Voice of Experience,” I want to focus on one of these more subtle changes that I believe has a tremendous effect on the training requirements found in 1910.269(a)(2). The 1910.269 standard published in 1994 was straightforward, describing what was required in order for an employer to determine that an employee was a qualified worker. By and large, the industry believed that if an employee had the required training, he or she could be determined to be qualified. Now, per paragraph 1910.269(a)(2) of the revised 2014 standard, all employees performing work covered by the section shall be trained as follows:
• Each employee shall be trained in, and familiar with, the safety-related work practices, safety procedures, and other safety requirements in this section that pertain to his or her job assignments. (1910.269(a)(2)(i)(A))
• Each employee shall also be trained in and familiar with any other safety practices, including applicable emergency procedures (such as pole-top and manhole rescue), that are not specifically addressed by this section but that are related to his or her work and are necessary for his or her safety. (1910.269(a)(2)(i)(B))
• The degree of training shall be determined by the risk to the employee for the hazard involved. (1910.269(a)(2)(i)(C))
The standard then goes on to say that each qualified employee shall also be trained and competent in:
• The skills and techniques necessary to distinguish exposed live parts from other parts of electric equipment. (1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(A))
• The skills and techniques necessary to determine the nominal voltage of exposed live parts. (1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(B))
• The minimum approach distances specified in this section corresponding to the voltages to which the qualified employee will be exposed and the skills and techniques necessary to maintain those distances. (1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(C))
• The proper use of the special precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment, insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools for working on or near exposed energized parts of electric equipment. (1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(D))
• The recognition of electrical hazards to which the employee may be exposed and the skills and techniques necessary to control or avoid these hazards. (1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(E))
In addition, the note to paragraph 1910.269(a)(2)(ii) states that “[f]or the purposes of this section, a person must have the training required by paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of this section to be considered a qualified person.”
Effect of New Language
Under the 1994 version of the standard, the industry – for the most part – interpreted it was all or nothing when it came to training for the 1910.269(a)(2) qualified worker. So, what was the effect of the new language added to 1910.269(a)(2)(i)(C) in the 2014 standard? It lessened the 1910.269 requirements to allow for task-specific training, similar to NFPA 70E low-voltage training. This means if an employer wants to meet the requirements of 1910.269(a)(2)(i) and 1910.269(a)(2)(ii), the employer can provide the training to employees and contractors so they are qualified to perform their task-specific work without ever being journeyman lineworkers.
Now, who might these task-specific employees and contractors be? They may work in vegetation management, substation construction, information technology or HVAC for substation/generation facilities. In the past, these employees always had to be escorted by a qualified employee when entering electric utility facilities not accessible to unqualified workers. Today, the demand for this type of work to be performed by more and more contractors or non-qualified electrical workers continues to increase. In addition, the industry continues to lose many qualified workers to retirement or transfers. The need for employees with task-specific training is now as great as ever. Not only that, but the time and increased costs required of a utility operator to furnish a qualified worker as an escort have reached a point where doing so is not economically feasible.
Many companies are taking advantage of this new language, and the concern for utilities is obvious: It is somewhat alarming to have a contractor enter a utility facility when he or she has limited training yet is considered qualified to perform task-specific work.
Additional Rules to Consider
Employers also should consider the following rules found in the revised 1910.269(a)(2).
Each line-clearance tree trimmer who is not a qualified employee shall also be trained and competent in the minimum approach distances specified in this section corresponding to the voltages to which the employee will be exposed and the skills and techniques necessary to maintain those distances.
The employer shall determine, through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section.
An employee shall receive additional training (or retraining) under any of the following conditions:
If the supervision or annual inspections required by paragraph (a)(2)(iv) of this section indicate that the employee is not complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section, or
If new technology, new types of equipment, or changes in procedures necessitate the use of safety-related work practices that are different from those which the employee would normally use, or
If he or she must employ safety-related work practices that are not normally used during his or her regular job duties.
Note to paragraph (a)(2)(v)(C)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers tasks that are performed less often than once per year to necessitate retraining before the performance of the work practices involved.
The training required by paragraph (a)(2) of this section shall be of the classroom or on-the-job type.
The training shall establish employee proficiency in the work practices required by this section and shall introduce the procedures necessary for compliance with this section.
The employer shall ensure that each employee has demonstrated proficiency in the work practices involved before that employee is considered as having completed the training required by paragraph (a)(2) of this section.
Note 1 to paragraph (a)(2)(viii)
Though they are not required by this paragraph, employment records that indicate that an employee has successfully completed the required training are one way of keeping track of when an employee has demonstrated proficiency.
Training Documentation and Verification
Note 1 to paragraph 1910.269(a)(2)(viii) is an interesting point; the advice from most subject matter experts is to document all training and proficiency demonstrations. This note was added as a result of employers hiring industry-qualified employees trained by others, and it gives the employer the latitude to interview, test and confirm proficiency via close supervision until the employer can confirm that an employee is a qualified worker. Before this change to the standard, all training had to be provided by all employers.
The requirement for the employer to verify employee competencies by actual demonstrations, as mandated by 1910.269(a)(2)(viii), has changed the training requirements landscape. There was a time when classroom training alone was adequate, and employees would then be supervised in the field. That is not the case anymore; demonstration of proficiency and documented annual reviews of competencies are now required. These requirements alone change the accountability of the employer and the responsibility of the employee.
In summary, the updated 1910.269 standard has provided employers the ability to be more productive with qualified electrical workers, but it also has increased demands on contractors and non-qualified workers to be trained in the specific requirements of the standard.
About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He is also an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta. For more information, visit www.electricutilitysafety.com.