There is a growing global push toward hazardous location competency training.

Keeping Oil & Gas Employees Safe

There is a growing global push toward hazardous location competency training.

In July 1988, the Piper Alpha went up in flames, killing 167 of 226 men in its crew. It is one of the most tragic offshore rig disasters in history. The investigation into the accident revealed multiple causes, in particular poor maintenance and safety procedures, and resulted in 106 recommendations to improve offshore safety and management practices.

As a result, several major changes were made to U.K. practices to help increase the safety of workers, especially in the offshore sector, and to protect large capital assets invested by major oil and gas companies. One of those changes was the requirement for personnel working with equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres to receive training in safe installation, inspection, and maintenance practices.

To satisfy this requirement, CompEx®, a training and competency assessment scheme, was developed by the Engineering Equipment and Material Users Association (EEMUA) in conjunction with JTLimited, the U.K.'s largest work-based learning provider; the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA); Unite the Union, Britain's largest trade union; and various industry representatives.

Key Drivers for CompEx
Recognized as a global best practice in many industries and mandatory for a number of jobs in the U.K., CompEx has expanded internationally with 14 current training centers operating outside of the U.K.

While the Piper Alpha disaster served as the catalyst for hazardous locations training and introduced competency validation, recent disasters in the United States (such as the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch-South; Imperial Sugar; West, Texas; and Deepwater Horizon explosions) have starkly demonstrated the need for competency training. Many industry professionals have come to realize that proper risk management, asset protection. and, most importantly, safety of personnel demands that those working in hazardous areas have the necessary skills to work as safely as possible.

Global standards and various government regulations have played a significant role in the push for hazardous locations training. The electrical installation standard IEC (EN) 60079-14 – Electrical Installations in Hazardous Areas specifies in detail the competency levels and requirements for those involved in the selection and installation of equipment designed for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. Based on the IEC (EN) 60079-14 and 60079-17 standards, CompEx provides training and competency-based assessments on hazardous area safe practices, giving companies the assurance that they can rely on the knowledge and skills of personnel working in these types of environments.

From the properties of explosive atmospheres, potential ignition sources, and equipment marking to proper equipment design, selection, installation, inspection, and maintenance, CompEx courses cover a wide range of topics. They are arranged in a modular format and are a flexible set of courses and assessments designed to focus on the necessary skills relevant to participants' specific job requirements. For example, personnel involved in selection, installation, and inspection are trained to understand correct equipment selection, potential hazards, and installation practices to mitigate those hazards. Personnel responsible for the design and engineering of these areas are taught equipment design, safety calculations, and documentation requirements. CompEx ensures that all personnel responsible for the safe operation of these critical areas receive the proper knowledge and skills to perform their job as safely as possible.

To receive a CompEx Core Competency Certificate, those taking the course must pass not only a written exam, but also a series of practical, hands-on skill assessments designed to measure their performance against current standards and provide assurance of their understanding of safe operation practices.

Whether involved in the purchasing, management, installation, inspection, or operation of hazardous locations equipment, the training and competency requirements of current electrical installation standards affect those at all levels.

For example, requirements that apply to personnel installing equipment in a plant are equally applicable to many manufacturers who build certified ATEX or IECEx equipment to form an assembly, because that equipment also must be designed and constructed correctly to operate safely in the environment in which it will be placed. In addition, management and design personnel also have specified training requirements listed in the IEC standards.

Electrical installations in hazardous areas are designed to render them suitable for operations in high-risk atmospheres. Manufacturers of equipment designed for these locations are required to follow specified design criteria, as well as quality control, to ensure the equipment is constructed in accordance with recognized safety standards. These protective measures are intended to reduce as much as possible the likelihood that the electrical equipment or installation could become a source of ignition.

However, while recognizing the need for equipment to be properly designed and tested, there are additional requirements for it to operate safely. For example, equipment must be appropriately selected for the atmosphere and environment to which it will be subjected. This is due to the fact that equipment designed for use in potentially explosive atmospheres is generally specific to the types of hazards to which it will be exposed; equipment suitable for use with propane, for instance, may not be suitable for use with hydrogen.

Traditionally, personnel in the United States who work on this type of equipment have not been required to receive training to understand how the equipment works; how to properly select, install, and maintain it; or even what the markings mean on the labels. The failure of many industries to ensure competency in these areas is, at the very least, as dangerous as allowing equipment that has not been properly tested and certified by a third party.

How CompEx Can Help
While hazardous locations training is not required in North America, it is growing in importance worldwide and becoming required in many countries. Those who choose to be proactive and obtain the skills, knowledge, and competency assurance available by completing a CompEx course gain a competitive advantage, distinguishing themselves from the competition. In addition, CompEx training allows companies access to global markets by ensuring employees working with hazardous locations equipment are trained and understand international requirements designed to enable a safer environment for all.

CompEx also provides asset protection, delivering confidence that equipment is designed, installed, and maintained according to the correct protection concept. Employee competency is independently assessed against a consistent and uniform standard, guaranteeing quality training and offering a measureable level of competency that satisfies internal and external regulators.

Through asset protection, CompEx also assists in protecting capital asset investment, saving manufacturers time and money. The program ensures that technicians working in hazardous locations properly install equipment the first time around and accurately perform required maintenance and inspection practices. These efforts help to avoid costly, unnecessary rework and reduce the likelihood of a potentially tragic accident.

CompEx provides training and competency validation for all industry professionals—designer, installer, or inspector--to ensure potentially explosive equipment is being handled properly. All CompEx courses are led by certified trainers and assessors at centers that receive annual audits by the CompEx certification body JTLimited, ensuring these industry professionals obtain top-level safety training. Both the CompEx Scheme Certification Body and JTLimited are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to the IEC/ISO 17024 standard for those working in explosive atmospheres.

Access to the global market, increased confidence, and cost savings are undeniably all reasons why CompEx certification is a smart move, but at the core of hazardous locations training is increased safety and avoidance of danger in the workplace. The Piper Alpha disaster served as a devastating reminder of much-needed, industry-wide improvements in the United Kingdom, and multiple tragedies in the United States indicate the necessity for a significant change in industry safety here, as well.

These incidents provide ample evidence that greater understanding and knowledge of safe operating practices in potentially deadly environments needs to become the rule, not the exception. This training should become the standard for hazardous locations companies across the globe.

To date, CompEx has been responsible for the safe training and competency assessment of more than 42,000 personnel in gas and vapor modules and has grown to consist of 30 independent centers worldwide. As the most accepted, trusted, and valued hazardous locations training and assessment scheme by all major oil, gas, and chemical users, CompEx provides verifiable training that companies can trust.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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