Many people refer to workplace electrical safety training as “arc flash training”. Workplace electrical safety training goes far beyond teaching workers about electrical hazards and should be focused on instructing them on how to work safely. No matter what you call this type of instruction, employers are required to provide adequate electrical safety training to their entire workforce. Our goal in satisfying this regulatory requirement should be to deliver practical knowledge that can be immediately applied the very next time any worker is exposed to an electrical hazard. This paper will discuss the use of a blended learning model using e-learning technology and leveraging instructor-led sessions to deliver more practical workplace electrical safety training.
The concept of blended learning as its being used today dates back to the late 90’s. Since the emergence of this hybrid form of learning we’ve seen a significant upswing in acceptance as several universities and colleges across the US and Canada have adopted these systems. Blended learning requires the use of self-paced digital media, for which in this discussion I’ve referred to as e-learning (also referred to as CBT or online training). The e-learning is completed by the worker as a prerequisite to additional face-to-face instructor-led sessions. When blending these two forms of training together employers have the opportunity to customize the instructor-led session based on data collected from the e-learning assessment.
The training required for workplace electrical safety should be determined by the worker’s risk of exposure to electrical hazards and status of electrical safety competency. Qualified electrical workers require more electrical safety training than non-electrical workers (also referred to as unqualified electrical workers). Employers should define worker roles and responsibilities as part of an electrical safety program and determine what constitutes adequate training for each worker. When the employer’s electrical safety program is aligned with Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems a “training matrix” should be established to document qualification and training requirements by worker role. At most workplaces every worker is exposed to electrical hazards although the risk of this exposure resulting in an injury is often very low. E-learning as a standalone training solution can be effective for non-electrical workers as it requires very little down time, is cost effective and constitutes as effective due diligence for employers. In the majority of cases non-electrical workers require only awareness level training for workplace electrical safety and content related to their specific scope of work in operating electrical equipment.
To provide more practical knowledge for qualified electrical workers we can use a blended learning system. Employers must first understand the required curriculum and identify the generalized content versus practical application knowledge and separate the information in a blended learning system. Workplace electrical safety training requires a significant amount of generalized knowledge including scope, definitions, terminology, electrical hazard identification, understanding potential harm, risk assessment procedure, applicable codes, regulations, and standards. Examples of practical knowledge include the application of the electrical safety theory within a work flow process such as developing and executing electrical safe work procedures for energized electrical work tasks, application of appropriate preventive and protective control measures, completing arc flash and shock hazard analysis, completing an electrical hazard risk assessment and selecting electrical specific PPE, tools and equipment appropriate for the work task.
The utilization of e-learning as part of a blended learning system for workplace electrical safety training can be used to efficiently deliver the electrical safety theory. Electrical safety theory, or generalized content knowledge, is used as a prerequisite to better prepare the worker for face-to-face time with an instructor. Instructors benefit from a more educated student with fresh subject matter knowledge. The brick and mortar classroom time can be better spent with an instructor who has more time to focus on the application of the subject matter using physical learning aids, exercises and practical application instruction. Workers with more practical knowledge are better able to apply the preventive and protective control measures in the field from the applicable best practice Standards.
Blended learning overcomes employer challenges
One of the challenges facing industry is the cost for training. The actual cost to employers far outweighs the pure training costs when you factor in demobilization of workers, wages, loss of “productive” time and travel costs. E-learning allows for self-paced learning that can be spread over several days or weeks leading up to an instructor-led session. Provided the face-to-face time is best spent building on the prerequisite knowledge employers don’t need to reduce the amount of electrical safety training due to budgetary constraints. Blended learning using an effective prerequisite allows workers to absorb and understand more of the instructor delivered curriculum. Employers can provide more than one day worth of workplace electrical safety training without requiring the worker to spend an equivalent amount of time in a brick and mortar classroom.
Another challenge for employers is site specific electrical hazards that “off the shelf” workplace electrical safety training courses inadequately address. The use of a blended learning model for workplace electrical safety training allows workers to spend more of the valuable face-to-face time with an instructor covering their site/industry specific training needs and get their questions answered. This time can also be spent reviewing the employer’s electrical safety program, related policies, safe work procedures and emergency response program.
In summary, blended learning systems can be used to increase the effectiveness of workplace electrical safety training. There are many benefits to consider including lower costs for training, more practical application knowledge for qualified electrical workers and less time spent in a brick and mortar classroom. Employers considering blended learning should research all of the available e-learning and instructor-led training options available. To optimize the potential success of any electrical safety training competency validation on-the-job is recommended. Training can be defined as knowledge transfer and by itself doesn’t validate any electrical worker as being “competent”. Employers should follow up on all forms of electrical safety training and use an electrical safety competency validation process to ensure the workers are applying the knowledge provided using your preferred training methods.
Jim Pollard is the Owner of Unlimited PPE Inc. and a member of several committees related to electrical safety including CSA Z462, ULC-S801, ULC Live Working and CSC/IEC TC78. Unlimited PPE Inc. represents the Oberon Company in Canada and promotes ESPS Electrical Safety Program Solutions Inc.