Are your electrical workers up to par?
Author - Sheila Kennedy, AVO
Electrical work is rife with hazards and more so in confined spaces. The costs of failure in human and economic terms are so great that stringent management of who performs the work, and how, is imperative. Electrical maintenance and safety certifications provide foundational knowledge for those exposed to the inherent health and safety risks.
Electrical worker certifications are sought for many reasons: new-hires; new equipment; transfers to a new shop or role; new rules, regulatory requirements or industry guidelines; or simply to upgrade an individual’s skill levels. For the recipients, achieving certification is appealing not only as a safety measure, but also as a career enhancer as it adds weight and gravitas to a resume.
To the business, certifications represent a necessary and worthy investment. A certification program may encompass one or more training courses and testing to assure proficiency. They do, however, have a limited shelf life. Periodic renewals keep the personnel current on the latest standards and practices for electrical maintenance and safety.
Because many electrical certifications are generalized by role or responsibility, companies may choose to add complementary, equipment-specific programs to heighten the knowledge and effectiveness of their teams. These programs are designed to provide hands-on training of the minimum qualifications to safely and properly perform specific tasks, while also developing knowledge of industry standards, regulations, and guidelines that govern the work.
Understanding the purpose and value of certifications and how best to choose from currently available options is vital. When it comes to work involving electricity, getting it right can mean the difference between safety and catastrophe.
Every exposure to electrical equipment carries risk, whether at installation, inspection, maintenance, repair, upgrade, or replacement. Even personnel simply in the vicinity are potentially in harm’s way. The most obvious hazards are death or injury from electrical burns, shocks, arc flash, fires, and explosions, but electrical incidents can also cause equipment and product damage, process or business interruption, and virtually inevitable legal and public relations costs.
To avoid these risks, plant teams depend on a skilled workforce of employees or contractors with a baseline (or better) level of qualifications and experience. “Qualified technicians operate with general knowledge of equipment operations and safety. Basic testing and troubleshooting skills are required as well as familiarity with company policies that govern lockout/tagout (LOTO) and in-place processes for isolation,” explains Greg Richmond, senior training specialist at AVO Training Institute (www.avotraining.com).
Not keeping up with new regulations, standards, technologies, processes, and applications is a risk too great to bear. For example, each time NFPA 70E changes, it has potential implications on electrical training and certification.
Fortunately, professional societies and institutions offer state-of-the-art training and certification programs, and keeping these programs current is their core competency. They actively track and incorporate the latest best practices into their certification programs, and often are involved in shaping industry standards.
Considerations for program selection
Choosing the right electrical certification program (or programs) can be a challenge. In some cases, two or more certifications may be preferred to ensure an individual has adequate qualifications for the job.
Program choices can be compelled by industry standards or corporate hiring policies, or mandated, such as state licenses for journeymen or master electricians. Certain job titles and responsibilities are obvious fits for certifications such as ASNT Level I Thermographer or IAEI Certified Electrical Inspector. The equipment type can also influence the decision. “Minimum qualifications of testing principles with general medium-voltage (MV) and low-voltage (LV) equipment may be specified for an electrical testing technician,” says Richmond.
Ultimately, the programs chosen should reflect the individual’s job requirements, duties, skills, and the types of equipment they’ll be working on or near. Weighing these variables against the purpose and substance of available certification programs helps to determine which ones will best fulfill the objectives.
Although the more prominent electrical certifications tend to serve distinct purposes, they are complementary in how they support safe and proper interaction with electrical equipment and systems. “They all increase the employee’s skill and knowledge level when working in the electrical environment and allow recognition of issues that could result in equipment failure or employee exposure to existing hazards,” observes Tom Norwood, senior electrical safety specialist at AVO Training Institute.
Following are some examples:
- ASNT Level I, II, and III Thermographer (www.asnt.org) for users of thermal/infrared nondestructive test equipment
- IAEI Certified Electrical Inspector (www.iaei.org) for residential and master electrical inspectors
- NFPA Certified Electrical Safety Compliance Professional (www. nfpa.org) for professionals who oversee electrical safety programs, electricians, and others exposed to electrical hazards
- NFPA Certified Electrical Safety Worker (www.nfpa.org) for electricians and other hands-on electrical workers
- NICET Electrical Power Testing (www.nicet.org) for technicians who test equipment used in the production, transmission, and distribution of electrical power
- ANSI/NETA Electrical Testing Technician (www.netaworld.org) for individuals who perform electrical tests on equipment
- SMRP Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technician (www. smrp.org) for maintenance and reliability technicians
- SMRP Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (www.smrp. org) for maintenance, reliability, and asset management professionals
- AMP Certified Reliability Leader (www.maintenance.org) for reliability leaders
Journeyman or master technician based on state licensing requirements
While all add value, earning a certification will not necessarily fulfill OSHA’s qualification requirement for electrical work. For example, a licensed journeyman with extensive experience wiring commercial facilities wouldn’t automatically be qualified to work on manufacturing equipment. This is where supplemental, specialty certifications become important.
In order to develop and certify more specific skill sets, companies can turn to specialty certification bodies whose programs conform to standards from organizations such as OSHA, NEC, IEEE, and NESC. One example provider is AVO Training Institute, which offers a dozen equipment/technology-specific electrical certification programs for electrical technicians, all of which meet the requirements of OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(vii).
Pairing these targeted programs with traditional certifications increases the scope of knowledge and abilities developed. For example, someone responsible for testing and maintaining protective relays who achieves an AVO Advanced Protective Relay Maintenance Technician certification, an NFPA Certified Electrical Safety Worker certification, and an SMRP Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technician certification, will be more well-rounded from a tactical, safety, and reliability perspective. It makes that person more valuable to the organization and provides them a stepping stone to further career opportunities.
Similarly, engineers, electrical technicians, and supervisors responsible for power cables who earn AVO’s Medium- Voltage Cable Diagnostics and Testing certification will learn how to perform and analyze tests such as insulation resistance, withstand, partial discharge, and tan delta to better recognize cable deterioration and improve predictive maintenance. Complementary certifications for this role may include NICET Electrical Power Testing and NFPA Certified Electrical Safety Worker certifications.
Finally, before choosing a certification program, make sure its courses are consistent with the individual’s needs and that the instructor has adequate knowledge, field experience, and credentials. Aim also for smaller class sizes and instructors who are active in the industry, for instance IEEE board members or active participants industry research and standards committees.