According to the Department of Labor, as much as 50 percent of the nation’s electric utility workforce will retire in the next five to ten years. These workers, many of whom learned through experience and practice, will leave with knowledge that will not be easy to replace.
Along with the exodus of older workers comes the growing need for new workers. The U.S. Committee on Energy & Natural Resources reported that a recent survey found 30 percent of companies had difficulties in hiring new employees. The reasons given were insufficient qualifications, certifications, or education, and as a result, potential workers were not hired. Overall, 77.5 percent of energy companies found hiring qualified workers to be somewhat or very difficult.
The evolving demands of the electricity industry are now causing additional workforce challenges. These include shifts in required skills along with skill gaps when it comes to implementing and operating newer technologies as the number of retirees increases.
This is where training comes into play. In addition to the skill sets left behind by retirees, an OSHA competent workforce is a mandatory necessity. Workers require the right training and continuing education to keep their compliance certifications current.
Ordinarily, training is time-consuming and intensive. However, with the right LMS, it is much easier to implement a company-wide OSHA competency program.
Authorized vs Designated vs Qualified vs Competent—Or All Four? What is the Difference and What Does OSHA Looks for in Competent Person Training?
Authorized vs Designated vs Qualified vs Competent. These terms are used to describe workers, and often the terms are sometimes used redundantly. However, there are similarities and completely different meaning to the titles.
According to the OSHA 1926.32(d) standard, an “Authorized person” refers to a person approved or assigned by the employer to perform a specific type of duty or duties at specific job site location or locations. These individuals need competent person training when it comes to their particular duties.
The OSHA 1926.32(d) standard also defines a “Designated person” as the same as an authorized person.
The OSHA 1926.32(f) standard refers to the “Competent person”. This individual is one is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the workplace surroundings or conditions that are hazardous, dangerous, or unsanitary to employees. They have authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
The competent person also has the knowledge of applicable standards, skills, experience, and training that is specific to a condition that requires immediate and necessary measures. While they may have received competent person training, they still should be “qualified” by the employer through experience and training on the job site. There has to be a competent person or persons on every job site.
As per the OSHA standard 1926.32(m), the “Qualified person” has a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or has extensive knowledge, training, and experience, and can successfully demonstrate their ability to solve or resolve problems related to the work, project, or subject matter.
However, they may need additional competent person training as identified in OSHA standards.
All employees in the electric power, transmission, and distribution must receive competent person training in specific OSHA standards. This includes any temporary workers. OSHA looks for training and compliance in multiple 1910.269 standard parts, especially in personal protective equipment training. These include 1910.269(a)(2); (b)(1); and (d)(2)(vi) through (viii). Also included is 1926.416(a)(3).
Risks to the Employer if Employees are Not Competent from OSHA Training
Managing risk is critical to every company. Companies, including those in the electric utility industry, must avoid injuries and fatalities, prevent liability, and work to keep OSHA standards as part of education for new employees and continuing education for existing ones.
Non-compliance to OSHA standards has far-reaching implications. Injuries and fatalities are commonplace with the electric industry being one of the most dangerous industries, along with trucking, construction, logging, and fishing.
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (EFSI) submitted data regarding fatal and non-fatal injuries. Among their study findings were:
- Contact with or exposure to electric current accounting for 2.6 percent of all workplace fatalities.
- Electrocutions were the cause of all fatalities, except one.
- Nonfatal electrical injuries that resulted in days away from work rose by one-third to 2,480 from 2014 to 2015.
Failure to provide employees with competent person training, can have serious implications, including penalties from OSHA and potential criminal lawsuits.
- OSHA issued 10 serious and repeated citations with $70,500 in penalties to Home Depot. An employee suffered chemical burns due to a lack of appropriate PPE and training.
- American Showa, Inc had 13 health and safety violations with fines of $151,330 for failing to train workers to recognize unsafe electrical work practices.
- Cleveland-based Precision Production, Inc was issued with four willful citations for fines of 149,250. As a result of an inspection, they were also issued with four willful citations with fines of $140,000 because they failed to train workers on recognizing energy sources and control methods.
Criminal charges can result. For example:
Pacific Gas & Electric Co could be charged with murder or involuntary manslaughter if it is determined that deadly California wildfires occurred as the result of “reckless” operation of maintenance of power lines, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people and thousands of homes destroyed. The possible charges could include failing to keep power lines clear of tress and vegetation, recklessly starting a forest fire, and murder.
When employees are properly trained and certified, employers can avoid stiff penalties along with loss of reputation and criminal liabilities for not having OSHA competent workers.
Using a Technology Platform to Ease the Struggles of OSHA Training Across the Electric Utility Company
Components of a comprehensive OSHA competent person training program must consist of self-directed study, performance monitoring, continuing education, multimedia-based learning reinforcement.
A learning management system (LMS) technology platform should enable electric utility companies to build course development plans based on their specified criteria such as job duties or certifications and recertifications based on worker departments, locations, or individuals.
The LMS should allow employers to create their courses and add ebooks. It should provide the ability to build curriculum bundles to their group courses into further bundles based on certifications, job titles, or any other criteria for the required competent person training.
An LMS needs to give employers the ability to build reports for participating employee competency or certification coursework, which in turn can show if there are any gaps in content knowledge or skill sets in general.
With extensive support and customizable learning modules, the WestNet LMS is an all-in-one e-learning solution for those seeking to raise competency levels throughout their electric utility companies.
As OSHA mandates evolve in response to changing workplace compliance challenges, it is essential to have an LMS that can easily adjust to new training requirements across a range of worker duties and skills.
To learn more about how you should enable all of your employees to receive competent person training, feel free to reach out and schedule a 1-on-1 strategy session today!