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IECEx: a view from the chair (3)

15 December 2014

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, the chairman of IECEx, gives his insight on developments within IECEx and the wider world of explosion protection.

IECEx Chairman Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold
IECEx Chairman Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold

At the plenary session of the annual PCIC North America conference, Paul Owen of Shell Global Solutions gave an impressive presentation to the audience of more than 1,500 people. His central statement was: “All is about competence!” He introduced Shell’s new qualification for staff working in process plants all over the world using elements of conventional training in classrooms alongside e- learning elements, insisting on the importance of a “revolution in learning”. It is clear that such comprehensive qualification programs need the participation of external service providers.

For me, as the chairman of the IECEx system, his message showed clearly that the decision to extend our conformity assessment system to cover personal competence four years ago was exactly the right one. All is about competence! This could be also the headline for all the activities within IECEx to establish a highly professional certification system for competent persons working in hazardous areas.

In the past, there have been many systematic investigations to uncover the reasons for explosion accidents in the process industry worldwide. In almost all these cases, the real reason was a lack of competence, whether of the operators or the management. In only a very few cases was the cause ascribed to equipment failure.

Equipment safety levels are well catered for, with international standards defining the requirements in place for many years, as well as certification systems such as ATEX or IECEx. To improve process plant safety significantly we now have to focus our efforts on the competence of the individuals working in these environments.

The first years of the IECEx Personal Competence Scheme have been very encouraging. As I write, eight Certification Bodies are accredited to carry out expert examinations and issue certificates. So far, more than 600 people have gained a certificate for one or more of the units within the scheme.

The fact that standards are generated within TC31 and the certification process is conducted within IEC ensures that the certificates issued are always state of the art.

During the 2012 IECEx Management Committee Meeting in Calgary, the US National Committee proposed to extend the Personal Competence Scheme to training providers. At first glance this looked reasonable since good training is the basis of every competence-building process. But, as is often the case, the devil was in the detail.

At IECEx we want to avoid a close interconnection between training organisations and the certification of single persons. We wanted to avoid conflicts of interests and keep the education and certification system as flexible as possible. There have been some practical problems as well. How do we certify training organisations? Should we sit through hundreds of Powerpoint presentations ourselves? And how to evaluate the trainers? They need both technical and instruction skills.

In the end we found a good compromise which solves all our problems. Instead of a certificate for training organisations, we will establish a pool of “Recognized Training Providers (RTP)”.

Any training organisation that wants to achieve this status has to fulfill certain documented requirements for the quality management system, the qualification of trainers, updating of training material, etc. It must also follow the IEC’s rules regarding the use of IEC and IECEx logos.

After signing a declaration agreeing to follow all these rules, the Recognized Training Provider will be listed in a public database on the IECEx homepage. To keep the quality level high, customers who attend these training courses will be able to provide direct feedback to the IECEx central office in Sydney.

This process started during the annual IECEx working group meeting in May of this year. After endorsement of the proposals by the IECEx Management Committee in August, we are now planning to fine tune the proposals during our next meeting session in spring 2015 and I am confident that we will be offering this new service later in 2015.

With the Recognized Training Provider program we will create the next important element of a certification system covering all important aspects of the life cycle of hazardous area installations.

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