Why would you send me two people, just so you can charge me more? This is a complaint we get often in the electrical service industry. In today’s article, I want to talk more on the technical side and lay out five prime reasons why you would want to have two technicians sent out for a service call when it comes to an electrical system. While I believe this article will apply to many different industries, parts of this article are specific to the electrical industry and anyone who uses electrical services.
Over the last decade, the electrical service industry has transformed substantially. Mostly due to the awareness of Arc Flash incidents and the severe risks it presents to electricians. Not that arc flash is anything new, it has always existed, but the industry’s awareness to the severe risks, and ways to avoid those risks did not exist. Depending on when you were trained in the electrical field, you may have had different ideas about working something hot. In my day you were heckled if you wanted to turn off the power, thought of as weak, or too timid to work in the electrical field. In today’s world, quality electrical firms would never think of allowing anyone on their team to work on an energized circuit for anything other than troubleshooting or testing. So if the idea is that you are going to turn off the power, why would you need a second person? Well, that is where this article comes into play. Below I will explain why you should still have two people available for any electrical service call.
1. It is required by NFPA 70E? I have been told many times that there is no electrical code that requires two people be present when performing electrical work. While this is partially true, there isn’t anything in NFPA 70 the National Electrical Code (NEC) that requires two people to perform electrical work, there are multiple places in the NEC that refer to NFPA 70E (Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace). Since NFPA 70E is the recognized as the standard for electrical installations, by referring you to NFPA 70E, the NEC is inferring that NFPA 70E is the standard for how to safely perform electrical work. NFPA 70E specifically spells out that no electrical work shall be performed in an energized state, with only allowing three exceptions; 1. If it creates a greater hazard by shutting the power down (130.2(a)(1); 2. It is not feasible to shut down the system to perform the task, for example, troubleshooting or testing (130.2(a)(2); and finally 3. If the operating voltage is less than 50 volts. (130.2(a)(3).So where does the second person come into play? In NFPA 70E 110.2(c)(1) it states that “employees exposed to electrical shock, and those responsible for the safe release of victims from contact with energized” parts shall be trained in the methods of safe release. NFPA 70E infers that a second person must be present that has been trained in the methods of safe release from energized parts. I know, at this point you are saying that, if the power is off, meaning you are not doing hot work, then there is no exposure to energized parts. That part is true. However, in order to turn off a circuit, the first step is to verify the absence of voltage. In order to do that you must remove the cover and test the system to be sure there is no active or stored energy. At the point of verification, you could be exposed to energized parts if the power isn’t truly de-energized. It is not uncommon for a panel to be mismarked, meaning you thought the power was off but in fact it is still energized. Furthermore, once you have completed your installation, you must test the system to verify it is working properly, which in most all cases require you to have an energized piece of equipment with the covers removed, thus requiring an additional person per NFPA 70E.
2. OSHA & CFR Regulations There is also nothing in OSHA’s CFR that requires there be a second person for performing electrical work, or is there? The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) also refers several times to NFPA 70E. While the CFR continues to copy verbiage from NFPA 70E as it evolves, there is no doubt that the intention is that NFPA 70E is the standard for safely performing electrical work. As an electrical service company it is our job to know and follow industry standards. Therefore, should someone get hurt due to an arc flash event, you can bet that NFPA 70E will be used in the lawsuit to identify whether or not your team was properly trained and following proper procedures. No one wants one of their team to get hurt, but the last thing you want to deal with after a team member gets injured is a legal battle and OSHA fines. In some cases the courts have proven criminal liability against the company for knowing better, but not implementing a safe work place. So this is nothing to play around with. Make sure you and your team fully understand NFPA 70E and how to properly use this document.
3. Electrical Spotter. Having a team show up allows you to keep a safe work environment not only for the electricians, but also for the general public. Many times while working, you have to go to the truck to get additional material. By having a second person, they can stay in the marked off work zone and insure that no one else enters the work zone, becoming exposed to the risk of getting injured. Also many times electrical service work requires a scissors lift, Snorkel lift, or bucket truck. By having a second person they can be a ground spotter making sure the general public is safe and that the lift remains clear of hazards. Finally, by having a spotter, you have a ground man that can get help in the case of an emergency. Can you imagine for a minute if you had a sole electrician working on a pole light in a snorkel lift and he came into contact with an energized part, knocking him unconscious? He would fall down into the bucket, completely unseen, and remain there until someone figured out something wasn’t right. How long could that take, hours, days?
4. Twice the labor means it gets done faster for a lower rate. If a lead electrician and an apprentice are sent out you are getting twice the labor at a reduced cost. In most cases electrical service companies charge a lower rate for an apprentice. Therefore, the time spent running to the truck, doing simpler tasks, and cleaning up is being done at a lower rate per hour saving you money. While I do realize that there are times when the task is a quick simple fix, you may not be saving money in those circumstances, but in most cases it isn’t known what the problem is until the electrician is on site and troubleshooting. Also, the quick simple fix is the exception and rarely happens.
5. Training the next generation. By sending an apprentice you are helping support the next generation of service electricians. The apprentices graduate school and become lead electricians, knowing the customers facilities, and the process required by each individual customer. It has always been comical to me that no one wants to pay for an apprentice, but they all expect to have an unlimited supply of lead electricians. The apprentices need to learn, and there is nothing better than on the job training.
Hopefully, this article makes sense to the non-electrical crowd. Like I said there are many lessons in this article that should speak to all industries. On the surface it may not make a lot of sense why certain companies do things the way they do, but, when you dig a little deeper you can see why those processes are in place. I know for my company, we are always thinking about the customer and what we can do to continue the Ultimate Customer Experience. While some of the processes may not make sense on the surface, all our processes are created to help serve and protect the customer. While safety should always come first for your team, you also need to think about the impact on your customer and make sure that you have a well-rounded program that protects your team but serves your clients.