As New Hampshire Goes
The Granite State moves the electrical safety needle with a new training requirement
NFPA Journal, November/December 2010
The state of New Hampshire recently took a significant step toward increasing the level of personal safety for its licensed electricians by mandating that personal safety be a required component of the classroom training for all apprentice electricians. Licensure of electricians has been required since 1975 in the Granite State, where its motto "live free or die" is taken very seriously, and any legislation related to professional licensure or certification is subjected to the highest level of scrutiny by the citizen legislature. The state becomes the first in the nation to enact such a requirement.
Historically, training programs for electricians produced competent installers, which is extremely important from a consumer safety perspective. That training model is now being revised. Formalized apprentice programs, such as those developed by the National Joint Apprentice Training Committee (NJATC) and the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc. (IEC), have long recognized the importance of safety training for personnel and continue to make employee safety a priority. However, electricians in New Hampshire, like those in many other states, are being trained in programs other than those sponsored by the NJATC and the IEC. Recognizing this fact, the New Hampshire Electricians’ Licensing Board knew that it not only had a responsibility to protect the public, but it also had to help ensure that those licensed by the state were being trained to work safely. To that end, the board changed its administrative rules to require that a specified number of training hours be devoted to personal safety.
"Deciding to make this change was the easy part for the board," Mark Hilbert, chief electrical inspector for the Bureau of Electrical Safety and Licensing, told me. "Ensuring this rule change is incorporated into the apprentice training curriculums is the next step, and part of this process will be training the trainers. You just can’t go to the supply house and buy an electrical safety program, so this is going to take a lot of work. But the end result—future generations of electricians working safer—is well worth the effort."
Article 100 of NFPA 70E defines a "qualified person" as "one who has the skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved." Unlike selecting rubber gloves with the proper voltage rating, determining the level of an employee’s qualification is not as simple as merely looking at a label or marking. Even credentials such as a professional certification or licensure do not guarantee that an employee is qualified for all of the tasks he or she will encounter on the job.
Similarly, classroom training alone does not necessarily make a person qualified. In many cases, on-the-job training is equally vital to understanding the operation and associated hazards of electrical equipment. (This, of course, depends on the level and complexity of the task being undertaken.) If nothing else, classroom training on personal safety is awareness training, and it is that awareness of the hazards and the resources available to mitigate or avoid them—a critical element of the "qualified person" definition—that is such a crucial part of New Hampshire’s electrical safety training mandate.
While licensing alone cannot be taken as a carte blanche validation of a person’s qualifications, it now becomes, at least in New Hampshire, a far more relevant piece in the overall package of what it takes to be a qualified person.
Jeffrey Sargent is NFPA's senior electrical specilist and is staff liason for NFPA 70E.