"The Resource Centre For Hazardous Area Professionals"

Social Media

How competent is competent?

Print PDF
User Rating: / 1

haz-d1-sep2When millions of pounds worth of facility, equipment and production is reliant on the competency of the staff in that environment, it is fair to ask the question, actually how competent is ‘competent’ and what does that mean for potentially explosive environments?

The question is often asked “What is meant by competence?” Competence is commonly regarded to be the ability to perform the activities within an occupation or function to an expected level. For those working in potentially explosive environments this is not just to the levels laid down by the employer or owner/manager of the facility (and often these go over and above general requirements), but it is also a matter of competency measured against internationally recognised Standards


IEC 60079-14 and IEC 60079-17, identify the various roles that require training within this environment and to what level. They specify in some detail the requirements for people involved in application design as well as the selection and installation of equipment or plant used in hazardous (potentially explosive) atmospheres. Great emphasis is put on the necessity to verify the knowledge and skills of people who may have an effect on the integrity of an installation. The Standards consider all of the people who have an influence in the final integrity of the assembly or plant installation including responsible persons or those with a purely executive function, the designer/ engineer as well as the installers/ technician (referred to as operative). All must have their competency validated.


Competency is measured for each of the explosion protection techniques for which the person is involved. For example, it is possible for a person to be competent in the field of selection and erection of Ex’i’ equipment only and not be fully competent in the selection and erection of Ex’d’ switchgear or Ex’e’ motors. In such instances of specific competency it is vital that the person’s manager defines this in their site documentation.  Whilst many workers on site typically have experience in a wider range of protection concepts than they are ‘officially’ designated competent for, site managers committed to risk reduction and elimination will not assign tasks to personnel that fall outside their official competency. This can be challenging though, when colleagues are off sick or on leave or even when industrial action strikes.  Vital jobs still need to be done. Processing needs to continue and even responses to events such as site audits all need to made.

So both ensuring competency through assessment to appropriate Standards, and formally developing knowledge in staff that may have once been on their periphery is key to  helping the site run efficiently and safely. Multi-skilled staff who can be flexibly allocated on site are a huge asset and will ultimately help protect plant, process, people and the environment.  Yes, the investment required for training can seem significant, but the cost of an explosion, failure or incident resulting from incompetence is staggering by comparison.

Assessment of competency

IEC 60079-14 and IEC 60079-17 state that the competency of Responsible Persons, Technical Persons with executive function, Operatives and Designers shall be verified and attributed, at intervals relevant to national regulations or Standards or user requirements, on the basis of sufficient evidence that the person:

a)    Has the necessary skills required for the scope of work (including practical skills where appropriate);
b)    Can act competently across the specified range of activities; and
c)    Has the relevant knowledge and understanding underpinning competency.

IEC 60079-17 goes further and states that the verification process should not exceed 5 years. Verifiable competency translates to having records for all staff that demonstrate that a person’s knowledge, skills and experience meet the requirements against their specific role or roles and responsibilities.
This is where CompEx competency assessment is so valuable.  It provides evidence of competency to various protection concepts against the Standard.

About CompEx

CompEx is the foremost internationally recognised personnel competency validation scheme for operatives in hazardous areas with over 36,000 certificates issued to date. It is provided by accredited experts, who are often practitioners in the field and combines classroom based learning with practical exercises. CompEx also requires re-validation of competency within a maximum 5 year period (as detailed in IEC/EN 60079-17).

Individual companies should be aware of the changes to legislation and Standards that are applicable to them and should determine if additional training and validation of competency is required. The company’s quality system should address this, together with the management and verification of training/ competency records and a mechanism to ensure that only competent people are allocated tasks that may impact on a hazardous area installation. There have been many significant changes over the last few years that are relevant to installation that introduce new protection concepts, new equipment selection methodologies and new equipment groupings (for example IIIA, IIIB and IIIC for dust).

It is important to ensure that courses are supplemented with a mechanism for updating the people involved where such changes occur, or having more frequent refresher training and re-validation of competency.

So where does this type of training take place?

There are competency assessment centres across the world, typically in regions where there is a high oil and gas industry presence. Training, outside the UK, may also be conducted on a company site where assessors have mobile training rigs –. Speak to your CompEx provider to find out more.

About Intertek

Intertek is an ATEX Notified Body, DSEAR/ ATEX implementation specialist and licenced CompEx training provider with mobile and fixed training facilities. You can find out more about their courses at

Visit us at Offshore Europe – 9th – 11th September 2015
Stand: 1D102