Author(s): Derek Vigstol. Published on March 1, 2020.

In Compliance | NEC

How much electrical safety training do you need? More than you might think.


In October, a construction worker at a residential project in New Jersey was electrocuted and killed when scaffolding touched a high-tension power line. That same month, a worker at a construction site in Maryland died when the articulating boom he was operating reportedly touched a power line. In December, an Amtrak worker in New York died when he placed a ladder against a substation transformer that he thought was off, but was in fact still energized.

In light of these fatalities, we need to examine how much and what kind of electrical safety training employers are required to provide their employees, and what that training should accomplish. A common misconception is that a little training is all you need; I’m continually surprised by people who believe that an eight-hour course on NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, qualifies them to do energized electrical work. It’s a great place to start, but there’s much more to learn. The idea that a minimal amount of safety training allows us to put ourselves or our employees into dangerous situations simply because they know how to pull on a set of personal protection equipment (PPE) is unfortunately very much alive in the electrical world.

A genuine understanding of the training that is necessary starts with the definition of a “qualified person” in NFPA 70E—one who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify the hazards and reduce the associated risk. NFPA 70E includes specific items that a qualified person must be trained on. They must be trained and knowledgeable in the construction and operation of equipment or a specific work method. They must be trained to identify the electrical hazards associated with that specific equipment or work method and be able to avoid them. They must demonstrate this knowledge to their employer who is ultimately the one who makes the determination that they are indeed qualified. Additionally, they must be trained in special precautionary techniques, the use of special tools such as insulated tools or test instruments, and any applicable policies or procedures.

This last part often comes from the employer’s electrical safety program and can include procedures such as risk assessments, lockout/tagout procedures, and chain-of-command details related to approval of energized work. Selection, inspection, and proper use of any PPE is also critical, since even the act of placing equipment in an electrically safe work condition might require an employee to resort to PPE as a protection method. Qualified persons might also find themselves within the limited approach boundary—the distance at which a shock hazard exists—and must be able to identify exposed electrical parts and their operating voltage.

While standards like NFPA 70E lay out the basics for many of these topics, it is also often necessary to obtain site-specific information. When, for example, is energized work allowed or justified? NFPA 70E states that when an employee is within the limited approach boundary or interacts with equipment in a manner that poses an increased likelihood of an arc flash, the equipment must be placed in an electrically safe work condition. Exceptions to that rule exist—the risk may increase if the equipment is de-energized, or the task may be impossible without the power on—but many site-specific or employer-specific electrical safety programs prohibit energized work for any reason. In that case, qualified persons must receive training above and beyond what is contained in the standard itself.

NFPA 70E says that electrical safety training must be conducted in a classroom or on the job or through a combination of the two. Beyond that, the amount of training needed by an employee isn’t specified—that depends solely on the electrical risk faced by the employee. Whatever training is undertaken must be enough for the employee to demonstrate to their employer that they meet the definition of a qualified person. This might mean four hours of training or 40 hours—ultimately, it’s up to the employer.

Bottom line: Being a qualified person means knowing when to shut it off. 

Derek Vigstol is an NFPA technical lead, Electrical Tech Services. NFPA members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 70 at