New LBNL Limits on Who Can Perform Electrical Work at LBNL

Paul Alivisatos is very concerned that someone at the Lab may be seriously injured or killed while performing electrical work for which they are not fully trained. Paul writes: "I am writing you to emphasize the importance of performing electrical work safely. In the last three years we have had six electrical shocks and another 8 instances that could have resulted in shocks. In at least one of these events, we are all very fortunate that it did not result in a fatality. The recent frequency of incidents alarms me personally and I am sure it concerns you greatly as well."

A new interim electrical safety policy issued by Alivisatos will further limit the range of electrical work that MSD researchers will be permitted to perform. Electrical work is broadly defined and now includes work on de-energized pieces of equipment that normally operate on >50V and 5 mA.

People who will perform electrical work must now become Qualified Electrical Workers (QEWs). Currently there are no QEWs in MSD. At this time, there is no path for Division scientists to become QEWs—the required classes will not be available for up to 6 months. Only people with significant prior experience and training in electrical work will be permitted to become a QEW.

Thus, at this time most work on electrical equipment in MSD that operates at >50v/>5mA is prohibited, even if the equipment is fully de-energized prior to the work.

These requirements/prohibitions also apply to work performed by equipment vendors. Vendor technicians may be judged to be QEWs by the EH&S Division, but based on prior experience, this will be difficult for many vendors to achieve. If an unqualified vendor wants to perform electrical work, they either must go through the process to become recognized as a QEW, or the hands-on electrical work must be performed by an Engineering or Facilities Division QEW under the direction of the unqualified vendor technician.

For a detailed description of electrical work and the types of work that do/do not require a QEW see the FAQ below.

Link to FAQ

MSD has developed a process whereby you can request electrical support from QEWs in the Engineering Division on an as-needed basis. The Google Documents form to request support is located at the link below. Please note that several of the fields on this form use pull-down windows where you select the best match to your work needs.

Request Support

As always, if you need the support of a Facilities Electrician, please contact Gil Torres at x5395 (buildings 2, 62, 66, 67, 976) or John Turner (Buildings 72, 72 A-C)

While this policy applies on an interim basis (until about March 2015), there is still time to provide feedback before this policy becomes permanent. If you would like to provide feedback, please follow the link below to the Google Feedback Form.

Google Feedback Form

If you have further questions, please e-mail Mike Wisherop at

Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes Electrical Work as applied to this rule?

Energized electrical work on equipment that may exposure you to conductors operating at >50 v and >5mA has long been prohibited in MSD. The big change in this new rule is that you cannot perform electrical work on equipment that operates at >50 v and >5 mA even after it has been deenergized. This means, for example, it is no longer possible for non-QEWs to build a power supply and then have it inspected and approved before use. You cannot repair, modify or upgrade any electrical equipment that normally operates at >50v and >5mA AC.

Here are some specific examples of work that is no longer permitted:

  1. Benchtop plug-in laboratory equipment, cord is frayed, so I unplug it and replace the cord with an appropriate new cord.
  2. Benchtop plug-in laboratory equipment, the company shipped me a new 120 volt component to replace the one that burned out, so I unplug the equipment, remove the cover and I slide the new component into place via the built in electrical connector.
  3. Benchtop plug-in laboratory equipment, I unplug it and open up the box that contains both dangerous and non-dangerous voltage when plugged in, I proceed to replace a 12v plug-in circuit board. (This is prohibited unless the parts of the device that operate at >50 v and >5 mA are completely shielded from)
  4. Large piece of lab equipment powered via a disconnect, I have the electrician LOTO it out and verify, add my own lock. I open up the outside panel and see that a 120 volt wire has come loose from the screw strip. So I screw it back on the strip.
  5. Benchtop plug-in laboratory equipment, I unplug it so I can remove the side panel and check the continuity on a (deenergized) 120 v wire with a multimeter.
  6. I have a plug in 208v instrument. I need to fix a leaking hydraulic line inside the case, which would expose hazardous voltage. So I unplug the equipment, toggle the switch to make sure that is does not start, and I remove the cover and fix the leaking hydraulic line. Then I replace the cover and plug the equipment back in.
Examples of work that is still permitted
  1. Changing the fuse in a piece of 120 V equipment after unplugging it (must use exactly the same fuse)
  2. Changing the light bulb in a 120 v microscope light source after unplugging it (as long as the light source is NRTL approved or has been inspected and approved by LBNL.)

What Steps Must I take to become a QEW?

There are 4 levels of QEW (QEW 1-4) at LBNL, but most MSD researchers will only need to qualify as a QEW 1. At this time there is no way to become a QEW, but eventually, estimated to be March 2015, it will be possible. You will need to contact the EH&S Electrical Safety Office (Stephanie Collins or Mark Scott) and they will guide you through the process. At least 20 hours of training will be required, and some people may not qualify to apply to become a QEW. You must demonstrate prior experience or training to do electrical work to be considered for this program. This may include the need to submit college transcripts and former job descriptions.

What can I do until I can become a QEW?

Help from the Electrical Engineering Group can be obtained by filling out and submitting the form here: The delivery of this support will be coordinated by the MSD EH&S Technician who supports your lab.