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IECEx: a view from the chair (11)

21 March 2016

On a visit to Japan, IECEx chairman Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold considers the impressive performance of the country's bullet trains and compares them to the IECEx system which he thinks has similar strengths, most notably the focus on staff competence.

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Stock image

At the beginning of February, I was invited to speak at two conferences in Japan. These were about safety of equipment in the time of the Internet of Things, or what we call in Germany ‘Industry 4.0.’ From Osaka, the first conference location, to Tokyo, the second, I took the Shinkansen bullet train.

The accuracy and speed of this method of transport is very impressive, even, or better to say especially, for a German citizen. The distance between the two big cities is about 500 kilometres and the journey lasts a little bit more than two hours, but most impressive is the timetable, with a scheduled service every 15 minutes. The average delay in 2015 was 6 seconds and over the 50 years the Shinkansen has been operational, there has not been a single fatal accident.

The reason for such an extraordinary performance can be found in the robust train design, the sophisticated planning of the infrastructure, the high qualification levels of the personnel and the comprehensive maintenance regime.

This reminds me of our IECEx system. The impressive performance of the Japanese railway system shows that we at IECEx have chosen the right way to build an efficient safety system for all activities in hazardous areas. We are not just focusing our activities on brand new hardware in the form of the explosion-protected products. Many years ago we extended our certification service to cover the competence of the people working in hazardous areas, or planning and managing the work inside of such locations.

Doing this we recognised the fact that the overwhelming majority of explosion accidents in the world are caused by persons, and not by the equipment. Increasing safety within process facilities means increasing the competence of the people within those facilities. This is the aim of our IECEx Personal Competency Certificate (IECEx PCC) Scheme, which has been in place since the end of 2010. After about five years of operation, we now have more than 1000 international certified experts in our online database.

Both operators of process facilities and national regulators show keen interest in these certificates, and in many parts of the world this interest is increasing. This was obvious during my stay in Japan, where many people asked questions about Certificates of Personal Competence and the new Recognized Training Provider Program (RTPP).

More and more experts all over the world are coming to recognise the advantages of the IECEx PCC Scheme compared with other qualification and certification programs for hazardous areas.

These include:

• The direct link with TC 31 standards, especially with the parts which are directed at operators of process plants, such as IEC 60079 part 14, part 17 and part 19. With the appointment of Swiss expert Peter Thurnherr as the new chairman of the IECEx PCC scheme, this direct interconnection has become particularly effective as for many years Peter has been chairman of the maintenance team for IEC 60079 part 14. Many other experts with similar expertise are working in our competency scheme as well.

• IECEx PCC is not only focusing on one sector, such as the oil and gas industry. It can be used across all the process industries, including chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry. Special national regulations can also easily be adopted.

• The strict segregation between training and the certification process. If somebody wants to get an IECEx Certificate of Personal Competence (CoPC) it doesn't matter where he or she got their knowledge and skills from. By doing this, IECEx is avoiding any conflict of interests.

The heart of the IECEx PCC is the Operational Document (OD) 504, where the Units of Competence are described and defined. Every one of these 11 Units covers special qualification profiles which are typical across the process industries. A person who wants to get a certificate can combine different Units of Competence to adopt his certificate to his real job profile.

During the London meeting of TC 31 in March 2016, a joint working group consisting of experts from IEC and IECEx started work to improve this important document. The aim is to make it easier to understand, more user friendly and to adapt it more closely to the competence requirements of the operator standards. In our dynamic world it is also important to add new competence units quickly if necessary. Examples could be competences for the evaluation of non–electrical ignition sources or functional safety.

After the London meeting, the work will be continued during the spring series of IECEx working and executive group meeting in Northbrook, USA. I will report on this issue and these events in future columns.

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