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Join HSI Chief Safety Officer Jill James as she visits environmental health and safety professionals in their workplaces to explore important workplace safety topics. This video covers what it means to be qualified to work with electrical devices, how to simply describe what electrical compliance is, and best practices when working with electrical equipment.
Hi, I'm Jill, chief safety officer with HSI. I'm a former OSHA inspector, and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards. For this series, we're at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in the heart of the upper Midwest to show you no matter where you work, safety training is for everyone.
When employers in any workplace setting are tackling electrical safety, it can seem daunting. Particularly, when the majority of us aren't electricians. I have a special guest with me today to help us get focused on electrical safety. Jason is president of EPSCO. EPSCO is an electrical engineering firm that specializes in safety. Thank you, Jason.
Electrical engineering firm... What made you decide to specialize in safety? Was it something in your background, or how did you approach that?
That's a really great question. When our company started out, we were offering a lot of different services from switchgear maintenance and power systems studies. It's just one of the things that we were doing. As we went through and got the chance to train more and more electricians and qualified workers in the field, we noticed that there was a really huge gap between the expectation and what was actually happening at the plant level.
It was really rewarding to see the transformation from the beginning of a four-hour class to the end, as people started to kind of catch an awareness of, you know, "Hey, we've been operating this breaker this way for 40 years. You're telling me now I need to wear PPE?"
Like, yeah, not only do you have to wear PPE, legally, you can't operate that breaker because the hazard's so great.
Because you're not qualified.
Absolutely. You're not qualified, or the use of energy is so great that it's above 40 calories per centimeters squared. It was really rewarding to be able to provide some knowledge to some of these folks, qualified folks working on the floor. Just sitting down through Thanksgiving one year, I realized that I'm not sure how many people we've sent home to their families that wouldn't have gotten there normally. We'll never quite know that, but we know that we've had a chance to, you know, we've trained over 1500 individuals in the last couple of years, so there's just been a lot of knowledge we've been able to portray through thought leadership.
Sure. It's a value that you hold. You want to be able to send people home whole and healthy.
It kind of developed into a practice.
That's how we feel in our company as well. We're like, I wonder how many lives we've impacted with safety training, that we've sent people home the same way they arrived.
Isn't that great?
It is great. It's a great thing to be able to lay your hand on, that difference for our workforce.
With regard to when people are thinking about electrical safety compliance, it can be such a big subject, and everybody kind of comes at it with their own maybe biases, or their own experiences on what they believe that really means. How do you simplify for people when you're starting a conversation with a company on how to kind of simplify what does that compliance mean so you're setting a baseline to kind of know where to start?
That's a really great question, and that's probably been the biggest question that we've got from new companies that are looking at electrical safety and what's required. It's usually based on a governing body who's written a penalty for their organization, another organization that they've heard about. Usually, they're writing that based on a consensus standard that isn't necessarily that governing body.
What we've done is we've interpreted what's happening in the industry, industry best practices, along with some of the consensus standards that have been writing codes and standards and best practices for years on that practice.
You're like, digesting regulations for the companies that you're working with, and then trying to apply them in a way that they can understand them, in their workplace setting? You don't have to get out these volumes of regulations and go, oh man, where do I start?
That's what you're specializing in?
Absolutely. Compliance really doesn't look the same from one client to the next. It's never cookie-cutter can. There's definitely some simple processes as in, we need labels on equipment to tell people what BP to wear. We need to train them how to use that PPE, what work they can be doing. We need a program that helps them as they go through daily tasks and that monitors and that records what they're doing, and making sure that they're doing things right.
There's some very cookie-cutter things, there's some commonalities across the industry that you see, though.
Yeah, so what are some of those common safety practices that if we're just gonna give a few examples to people, what would be some of those that kind of go across all different industry types?
You bet, that's a great way to look at it. Probably the best way to understand it is to look at a scenario of an electrician or a qualified worker working on a panel. Before this qualified worker begins to work on a panel, he's gonna need training to understand that equipment that he's working on, and to understand the hazards associated with it as it relates to electricity.
Probably the first initial thing is gonna be safety training for your employees, teaching your qualified workers the hazards based on it. As this worker approaches a panel, he needs information from this panel on how to work on it safely, as far as what voltage is there, what instant energy rating is there. He needs to know what PPE is relevant to the equipment that he's working on.
That's where the arc flash study kind of comes in.
Kind of starts with electrical safety training, the arc flash analysis, and then probably a third piece of the puzzle would be electrical safety program. That was defined when electrical safety program is in 2018, and electrical safety program really is gonna be the how-to, in a lot of ways, for the employee as well as allowing them to track through forms what work they're doing.
Yeah, kind of like a job safety analysis, what a lot of safety professionals think about that, except for this is specific to electricity.
Every place of employment has electricity, and things need to happen with electricity. We have different levels of qualifications with our employees, from maintenance workers to electricians, to master electricians, to electrical engineers. If someone's listening to this and thinking, where do I train my employees to know the limits of the scope of their work, to stop, like this is over my head. I don't have enough training for this, I don't have enough experience in it, and to really butt up against that cliché you mentioned earlier, I've done it this way for 30 years.
This is how I've always done it, nothing's happened to me, what do you say to people about that, or how do you train on that piece? Knowing your scope.
That's a great question. Knowing the scope and your limit. The way we break it up is qualified and non-qualified worker.
A non-qualified worker is someone who you would not have accessing the panel, not resetting a motor, opening things like that. A lot of times, we'll come into a company and we'll start doing training, and you'll have equipment operators that when their piece of equipment goes down, they know they can walk up to this bucket, open it up, reset this thing, and then close it.
If they're not qualified to be working on or near 480 volts, which is present in that panel, we need to give them training, awareness training, and say, "Hey, that is a threshold. That's a task that you should not be performing."
You're helping companies discover that maybe people they thought were qualified to do certain jobs really aren't?
Then you're trying to bring them up to speed, or find the right discipline or the right background to do that?
A lot of it comes to kind of changing management processes, is how if this piece of equipment goes down, we call an electrician, who this electrician's been through a four or eight-hour qualification training, understands not only the electrical hazards, but the hazards of that equipment.
Right, right. As you're describing this, I'm thinking about a fatality case that I investigated a number of years ago, where a maintenance employee, his job was to change out a fluorescent light bulb in a standard fluorescent light, in like a hallway. He was on his ladder, changed out the bulb, light didn't work, determined that the ballast was bad, and decided to change out that ballast, not a qualified electrical worker. He suffered a shock and was thrown from the ladder and died.
Those are the kind of things that companies really need to know. Where does the employee need to know, full stop, this isn't me?
Right, right. That's what you're helping employers figure out everyday. Are they often times shocked when you're thinking, oh man, I thought I had all these qualified people?
Very much so. In a class of 20, once you start training, the dialogue that the class has with each other, it's really interesting to hear just in the facility, the range of spectrums of what they thought was safe and not safe, just within their plant.
The conversation becomes rich, they're giving examples of, what if I'm doing this? What if I'm doing that? That's where a company with your kind of background can help an employer figure out where those lines are.
Yeah. Yeah. Very interesting. This is really good stuff. When a company's going to hire an electrician, what should they be looking for, particularly when it comes to safety and qualifications, and not all electricians are exactly the same?
Absolutely, absolutely. Depending on the task the electrician's performing, you want to make sure they have had some sort of training to qualify them for working on the equipment that they're doing, whether that's a certificate of completion or something like that.
What should an employer be asking, or a safety professional be asking for?
Asking for some sort of a proof or some sort of a form showing that the individuals coming on site have completed like a 70-E based.
Okay, okay, NFPA 70-E. All right, okay.
I wasn't sure if I should be mentioning standards.
No, I think that's great. I think 70-E is a vernacular that a lot of people have heard as they're trying to understand what arc flash compliance means.
Yeah, right. I think that's good. Yeah, any other tips on how do you source an electrician?
There's a lot of challenges with that. Usually going through service partners, people you already have working in your facility, a lot of groups will be, like, a commercial and industrial firm. If you're an industrial plant, you're looking for someone who's specialized in industrial plants. It's just a whole different set of equipment rules that you're working with industrial facilities. Same with equipment or seeing who they've worked with in the past. You know, seeing if they've worked with similar to your industry, if you're in beet sugar, see if they've worked with other sugar facilities.
See if there's any similarities between them.
Yeah, and if they have a specialty in safety.
Yeah, wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing this with us today. Really, really appreciate it.
Hopefully you're able to pick up a couple of tips today to try to understand that there really is some study to be done in your facility to know what is qualified and unqualified electrical work. You can start that journey to make your workplace even safer today.
I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this, go ahead and pass it on. Safety is everyone's business.