By: Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP, CUSA
Last month, employee training and the importance of developing a well planned training process were discussed. This month, several additional factors as they relate to employee training will be reviewed.
“Qualified” employees have specific training requirements defined by OSHA and NESC (National Electric Safety Code). A “qualified” employee is “one who is knowledgeable in the construction and operation of the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution equipment involved, along with the associated hazards”.
Training for “qualified” employees must establish employee proficiency in OSHA (safety standards) and utility specific work practices. This means employees must demonstrate proficiency and safety in performing all required tasks. OSHA and NESC list major requirements for “qualified” employees in the standards which are fairly straightforward and easy to understand. More difficult is the requirement to identify all associated hazards with each job function and to ensure qualification for the specific work performed. For example, a major storm hits and a URD journeyman is assigned to an overhead crew. Although the journeyman has demonstrated proficiency for safely completing URD tasks, the tasks were not specific for the type of work required in overhead operations. To ensure proficiency and appropriate qualification, the journeyman must demonstrate the ability to safely work on overhead equipment and lines.
OSHA considers tasks that are performed less than once per year to necessitate retraining before the work can be performed. OSHA further requires the employer to determine, through regular supervision and inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with all safety-related work practices.
Many utilities use external training organizations for various jobs. Although external training organizations offer great educational opportunities, they should not be used as the certifying authority. OSHA is very clear that qualification does not specifically correlate to school completion. The employer is responsible for ensuring employees are trained and qualified to work on the specific lines and equipment owned by the utility.
Years ago, I worked for an electric utility who participated in a state sponsored line worker school. Employees attended four (4) week long courses, which were offered over several years to achieve journeyman status. Several major issues became extremely evident. First, some employees finished training early depending on when the employee was hired and the scheduling of classes. Second, training was structured for a wide variety of duties, not always specific enough, since multiple utilities utilized the training. Third, employees who had been on the job for years were complaining other employees were moving to journeyman status too fast to learn the proper skills and did not always feel an employee was “qualified” to perform the work, especially in outage restoration situations. This type of training had no organized method of promotion to journeyman other than school completion and time in grade. We learned that employees who completed the schools had vast differences in knowledge and skill level although they ended up in the same job classification.
Management addressed these issues by developing an organized training plan which addressed academics, external training and on-the-job training requirements. Written and practical reviews were attached to the training process and a training team was developed to ensure identification of hazards and proven proficiency of employees before various levels of qualification were achieved. This program made a profound difference at the utility because all employees understood the requirements for each level of qualification, supervisors had qualified workers, employees were being paid for the job they were doing, and on and on…….
A well developed training plan is extremely important for every job classification. Without a plan, training becomes fragmented and many times left to chance. Keep in mind the plan should ensure employees have a well orchestrated method of development and an understanding of all specific requirements. Finally, the time taken to ensure training is developed and completed appropriately will equate to a well trained, safe employee! “Everyone cannot cross the finish line at the exact same time but everyone should be able to cross the finish line at some time if given the necessary plan and resources” (Russ Dantzler, 2011).