Optimizing Ex skills

Personnel certification: a success story for IECEx and one of its partners in Norway

By Claire Marchand

Safety and health in the workplace, also known as occupational safety, is a fairly recent concept that can be traced back to the first industrial revolution when factory owners began to consider it as a labour-related issue. The Factory Acts of 1802, introduced out of concerns about the poor health of children working in textile mills, marks the beginning of health and safety regulation. Things have changed drastically since then and most countries around the world have enacted laws to protect their workforce, albeit with varying degrees of stringency.

Repair paint job on car body Worker skills and competence are essential in Ex areas

Safer equipment, ongoing training

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) “occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.”

Technological advances and automation have made the workplace safer. Industrial robots for instance can lift much heavier loads and perform many of the dangerous tasks previously assigned to humans. But safety at work entails much more than safer machinery. Worker skills are at stake as well.

The rapid pace of technological innovations requires workers to adapt constantly and develop new skills. The need for continuous training had increased with the acceleration of digitization in most business processes. Companies invest huge amounts of money not only in their equipment but also when they hire staff. Providing ongoing training that keeps their workforce up to date on new technologies and processes relevant to their jobs is a good way to maximize their investment. This is true for all industry and service sectors.

Why is training so important?

This is even truer for the Ex industry. Ex, which stands for explosive, includes sectors such as oil and gas, mining, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food processing, sugar and methanol refineries, printing, paper and textiles, and many more – the list is by no means exhaustive.

Safety in hazardous areas is non-negotiable. When equipment is not installed, maintained, inspected or repaired by competent persons and according to strict Ex standards, the outcome can be devastating. What may be tolerable in non-explosive atmospheres can lead directly to explosions and/or fires in hazardous locations, not only destroying property but also costing human lives and causing severe injuries.

Certification of personnel competence

Ex industry workers’ skills and competence are of the utmost importance. To meet Ex industry’s needs and ensure that all safety aspects have been covered, IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, launched the IECEx scheme for certification of personnel competence in early 2010.

The scheme provides companies working in the Ex field with independent proof that a person has the required competence and capability (based on qualifications, experience and demonstrated ability) to implement the international Ex standards and to work on, or repair, equipment located in hazardous areas. This can be especially important for consultants and contracted staff. The IECEx certificate of personnel competence (CoPC) is personal, non-transferable and valid across international borders. As well as the certificate itself, IECEx-approved personnel are also furnished with a wallet-sized identification card with photo, providing instant proof of certification.

The scheme for certification of personnel competence complements the other IECEx schemes – IECEx certified equipment scheme and IECEx certified service facilities scheme – to ensure that equipment and people working in the Ex field operate in the safest possible conditions.

A case study in personnel certification

Ex certification bodies (ExCBs) are the driving force behind all IECEx schemes and they certainly helped make the scheme for certification of personnel competence a success. According to IECEx Executive Secretary Chris Agius, “the objective of the scheme is to make the world a safer place and to use the principles of conformity assessment to provide employers and others with the confidence that the personnel working in or near hazardous areas containing explosive atmospheres have been independently certified as competent to do so according to world’s best practice requirements. The ExCBs are essential partners of the IEC and IECEx and providers to industry in this endeavour. Local presence and availability of active and future ExCBs in the market place is crucial in order to grow the scheme.”

In Norway, one ExCB, Trainor Certification, has particularly excelled in promoting the scheme and making it a success story: The company started looking into the scheme in 2014 and four years later, it had the highest number of personnel certifications among all ExCBs. Its Managing Director, Einar Thorén, is convinced that “with an increased focus on standards and certification schemes, this is just the beginning.” He adds that the company expects significant additional certification at all of its locations in the years to come and emphasizes that some companies are signaling a need for certification of up to 50 000 people. “When they knock on the door, we’ll be ready” says Thorén.

To make this rapid development possible, Trainor has quality assured and affiliated with international partners that organize CoPC exams for local candidates on behalf on the Norwegian company. In all cases, Trainor issues and marks all exams and makes the final certification decision.

As Thorén says: “It is our goal to make the IECEx scheme for certification of personnel competence a standard in all countries. That would make it easier, safer and cheaper for everyone in the industry.”

More information on IECEx: www.iecex.com

More information on Trainor certification: www.trainor.no

Gallery
oil rig worker Worker skills and competence are essential in Ex areas such as oil rigs...
welding work on pipeline ...pipeline welding and grinding...
Repair paint job on car body ...or in automotive paint processes