Electrical safety: The notion of competency and electricity

by Mar 7, 2019Electrical Safety

Electrical safety: 

The notion of competency and electricity


Have you ever been confronted with any of the following questions? Can an operator activate disconnect devices by him or herself? Can an electrician work under voltage or near a voltage source? Can the cleaning crew have access to the electrical room when equipment is open, and its live conductors are bare?

These questions show that it is important to broach the notion of competency in electricity. We will first go over the scope of training, then the types of training, their content and the qualifications of their participants.

This blog will not go over the restricted certificate in equipment connection (RCA) which will be discussed in an upcoming blog. It’s important to understand that all work on an electrical installation must be done by a licensed electrician supported, in the case of modifications, by an owner-builder/contractor or master electrician depending on the situation. For additional questions you may have, don’t hesitate to consult Emploi-Québec for the licenses and the Régie du Bâtiment du Québec for the notion of guarantor.

Evidently, electrical training is important in the workplace and must be adapted to the risks to which workers are exposed. All workers exposed to risk, directly or indirectly, must be trained. Are they electricians, operators, cleaners? The questions that came up in introduction must find their answers in order to fully understand electrical safety.


Practical training or theory?


Which to choose: practical training or theory? If the aim is to convey ideas and rules regarding safety, in-class training (theoretical) can be a solution, but it must be understood that participants may only retain 20% of the presentation at most. Theoretical training mustn’t be intended as qualification training for personnel directly exposed to electrical risks. On the other hand, practical training is invaluable as participants can retain as much as 80% of the information presented.

In addition, the competency-based approach allows to evaluate the participant in accordance with the main points associated with his work. By being better trained, the worker is more likely to correctly apply the steps he or she has been taught.

Can it be assumed that the electricians and electronic technicians that are hired are automatically qualified in terms of electrical safety? Not really. The employer must never assume that the employee is qualified when he hires him or her. The employer needs to build a program with which the worker can be evaluated and consequently ensure that the worker’s knowledge is of an appropriate level for the tasks he or she will be performing. Why? In order not to put his or her life at risk or those of his or her colleagues. Professional training schools are not all prepared to teach their students how to face certain electrical hazards such as electrical arcs and blasts, as is the case in many workplaces as well.

What needs to be included in electrical safety training? Training needs to include the dangers associated with electricity as well as safe work practices and procedures. Employees must also be trained in emergency measures. The measures include the location of the disconnect devices, separating of victims from potentially energized parts, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillation (AED) and intervention on external burn wounds. Ventricular fibrillation and external burns are the two most common types of wounds in electrical workers. It is recommended that a second person, trained in emergency measures, be present during the execution of a task in order to intervene in the event of an accident.


The Qualified Person

The qualification depends, among other things, on the boundary area within which a worker finds him or herself. The different safety perimeters (arc flash protection, limited approach, restricted approach) will be explored in an upcoming blog. When a worker enters the limited approach boundary (1 meter for 750V or less), he or she must be qualified or escorted by a qualified person, but when he or she is within the restricted approach boundary, he or she must imperatively be qualified and protected against shocks. This approach is also detailed in the CSA Z462-18 standard.

The Qualified Person possesses techniques and knowledge on the construction and maneuvering of electrical apparatuses and installations. He or she also received electrical safety training allowing him or her to recognize and avoid inherent dangers. The training must be specific to the tasks and electrical hazards present. The worker must learn the proper use of protection devices and it is entirely possible that he or she be trained for some tasks and not others. As it is mentioned in CSA Z462 (2), the Person will need to be trained on the following points if the voltage is over 30 volts:

  • The technical competencies to recognize and distinguish live bare conductors from protected parts of an electrical installation
  • The competencies to measure the nominal voltage and to know the limits of his or her measuring device.
  • The distances to be kept
  • The assessment of the risk level, how to reduce risk and how to select the appropriate protection measures to create a safe work situation.

To illustrate the notion of Qualified Persons, let us return to our earlier questions: Can an operator activate a disconnect device by him or herself. The answer is yes. However, if he has been authorized by the employer, is he or she informed of the good practices related to stopping the equipment, inspecting and opening of the disconnect device from the side with his or her face kept away (see blog on safe maneuvers) for example?

Refresher training is necessary every three years or when new equipment, technology or a change in safe work procedures is introduced. The refresher training is also required when the task to be performed is done less than once a year and isn’t routine or involves additional hazards. Thus, evidently, it is crucial that workers exposed to electricity, directly or indirectly, be properly trained. Electricity is an invisible phenomenon. It is necessary to fully know an equipment to understand its working principles and to consequently avoid exposure to hazard.

Reference: CSA Z462-18 Electrical Workplace Safety.

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Intervention Prévention Inc.

Intervention Prévention concentrates its operations in the field of work safety, offering specialized services following Standards CSA Z462 – Workplace Electrical Safety, CSA Z460 – Control of Hazardous Energy: Lock-out and Other Methods, and CSA Z432 – Safeguarding of Machinery.


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