By Jonathan Travis, Contributor
In the face of a global pandemic almost every organization has had to rethink the way it performs employee training, and this does not exclude electrical safety training.
Having an instructor in the classroom who can interact with the group and facilitate hands-on training has always been a necessity in the electrical safety world. Electrical safety standards even call out the importance of students to demonstrate their skills and abilities during the training.
With virtual training becoming the most practical way to get information in front of the students during the pandemic, it is becoming quite clear that hands-on and practical instruction is posing to be a challenge.
The question then becomes whether we can use a virtual training platform and still get the entire training, including hands-on demonstrations, done properly?
THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
Through my own experience of being a virtual trainer and a virtual student I have been pleasantly surprised how well the on-line classrooms are working. Even after standing in front of a camera for an 8-hour session I felt the students were still engaged in the material and acting as if I was right in the room with them. I will not get into what platform works best or what gadgets you can install to make them run a little smoother, but I will say, in general, they work well and are easy to use. So, for theoretical and example-based training, the virtual classroom works perfectly.
What topics can easily be covered virtually?
Luckily, the underlying material for electrical safety training has not changed at all. There may be a few slight differences, but essentially you want to cover how to start and finish an electrical job safely. If an electrical worker can figure out what hazards he is up against, what is the potential severity of an incident, how to mitigate any risk in a safe way, and then the safest way to perform the work, then you’ve got it covered.
Every course should go over the following material, and this can all easily be done virtually:
- How to determine a shock hazard
- Effects of a shock on the human body
- Step and touch potential
- Voltage tables for distances and shock boundaries
- How to determine an arc flash hazard
- Effects of an arc flash on the human body
- Reading and interpreting arc flash hazard labels
- Examples of when you are exposed to shock and arc flash
- How to select appropriate PPE
- Other methods of hazard control
- Emergency preparedness and response
All of these topics are straightforward, and it is not the intent of this article to go over each one in detail. The main point I want to illustrate is that whether the instructor is in the room is not going to impact the knowledge transfer on these items.
HOW TO PERFORM HANDS-ON & PRACTICAL
In previous years, this is the part of the course when the instructor would either bring in some example materials (tools and equipment) that the class can use, or the entire class would get up and go out in the facility to do demonstrations on some de-energized equipment. Here in lies the problem with a virtual session.
There are two key tasks that every electrical safety trainer should get the students to demonstrate:
- Operating a disconnect (and applying locks)
- Testing for absence of voltage (the most critical step in establishing an electrically safe work condition).
Other courses may require hands-on training for tasks which are related to working on high voltage equipment or other unique equipment types. We will exclude these for the sake of simplicity, but you should be able to apply the same methodologies to those topics for virtual training as well.
So far, we have been using two methods to get the students to experience the hands-on curriculum. Either bring the materials to the class or have the class perform the demonstrations in the field under supervision.
If you opt to bring materials to the class, while the trainer will not be in the same room, he will still be able to see what you are doing. By bringing an old disconnect switch or breaker to the classroom and positioning it in front of the camera you can still demonstrate your abilities. Every electrical worker should have access to a voltage detector they can bring to the training session as well as locks and tags. With a little organization and patience, each student can demonstrate their skills and knowledge on the screen.
IDENTIFY A RESPONSIBLE PERSON
If bringing equipment into the room is not an option, then you may have to designate a responsible person to act on behalf of the trainer. This would typically be a supervisor or a manager who has knowledge of the electrical safety procedures and protocols. Prior to the course, the responsible person would spend time with the trainer making sure they fully understand what is required of them. After the theoretical training session is complete, the responsible person would schedule time with each of the participants to witness them demonstrating the necessary tasks for their jobs. The responsible person then reports back to the trainer and certificates are distributed.
While it may look and feel a little different in 2021, electrical safety training has not changed all that much. Add in some technology and creativity and you can still complete a comprehensive training session.
With a little thought and pre-planning, I believe any hands-on task can be completed as part of a virtual training session and therefore satisfy the requirements of the electrical safety standards.
Jonathan Travis, P. Eng., PMP is the CEO of Leaf Electrical Safety, providing arc flash studies, electrical safety training, and electrical safety program development to industrial clients worldwide. He can be reached at 506.434.4602 (www.LeafElectricalSafety.com).