What makes you a qualified electrical worker?

The word qualified shows up in CSAZ462-18 (the workplace electrical safety standard in Canada) 109 times. Now it’s not always talking about a qualified worker but most times it is. So that shows the level of importance the CSA technical committee has given it.

What determines whether someone is qualified or not?

You might think that once someone has worked in the trade long enough, then he or she is qualified, and for certain tasks, you would be correct. The trick is, for other tasks, this same person would be considered unqualified.

Here is an example.

Bill and Steve get hired for the electrical crew by a mining company on the same day. Bill and Steve are both relatively new in the trade and don’t really have much experience. The supervisor decides to put Bill on the high voltage maintenance team and Steve in the shop rewiring starter panels and portable sub-stations.

The high voltage maintenance team works together on every job. Because of the nature of their work the team feels responsible for training Bill. Over the next six months, Bill learns about the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and how to identify and avoid the hazards involved.

Meanwhile, Steve is in the shop learning the ins-and-outs of every piece of electrical equipment that comes through the doors. He works under the eyes of a veteran electrician tearing down and re-building any of the panels and sub-stations that are due for a tune-up. Steve takes a lot of pride in the condition of his shop, always making sure his work areas are clean, the tool cabinet is organized, and any required safety equipment is kept in good working condition.

Now… the question is… are Bill and Steve both qualified?

The answer is yes… ah… and no. You see being qualified is task specific. That means that Bill is qualified to complete high voltage maintenance work and Steve is qualified to rewire a panel… but not the other way around. If Bill was sick one day the supervisor couldn’t just throw Steve out there to start doing high voltage maintenance work. That is, not without Steve going through the same level of mentorship that Bill went through.

Why not, what’s the big deal?

In this particular example, the big deal is the hazards involved. Everything that comes into Steve’s shop has already been de-energized. That means the hazards (primarily shock and arc flash) are greatly reduced compared to the work that Bill is doing on a regular basis. So once Steve can demonstrate to the supervisor that he can identify and avoid the hazards involved with the new work (filling in for Bob on sick days) then he will be considered qualified for the high voltage maintenance as well.

So, what about on-the-job training? Is the trainee considered qualified?

On-the-job training is fantastic! It’s probably the best way to learn about the equipment and the hazards involved. But you are right to ask the question, is someone considered qualified while they are performing tasks as part of an on-the-job training? And the answer is yes, as long as they are under direct supervision of a qualified person.

What about “unqualified” persons?

Being considered an unqualified person has actually caused some confusion over the years. I think it all boils down to the fact that being qualified is “task specific” so being unqualified is also task specific… it’s not job title specific.

Most people think qualified = electrician, and unqualified = non-electrician. But, as we’ve already learned in the case of Bill and Steve, you can be qualified in one area and not in another. This is also true for non-electrical workers. If they have been trained in the operation of the equipment and the hazards involved (and have the skills and knowledge to back it up) then they can be considered qualified for certain tasks. Maybe operating a disconnect switch for example.

Conclusion

Just remember that being a qualified electrical worker is not an all-encompassing title, it’s specific to each and every task on a case-by-case basis.

I hope you found this article useful and if you did please share it!