Honing skills in Ex areas

IECEx – making sense of training, assessing and certifying competence of Ex industry workers

The times when a degree was the ultimate stage in your educational development are long gone. And so are the jobs for life. People today are more likely to switch profession more than once in their lifetime. They may have to completely reinvent themselves to embrace a new career. Even when they stay in their specific domain, technological advances and the digital age in general requires adaptation and ongoing training to keep up with the fast pace of the 21st century.

Oil industry workers
In the Ex industry, workers’ skills and competence are of the utmost importance

Why is training so important?

The online encyclopedia Everipedia explains that “Training is teaching, or developing in oneself or others, any skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one's capability, capacity, productivity and performance. It forms the core of apprenticeships and provides the backbone of content at institutes of technology (also known as technical colleges or polytechnics). In addition to the basic training required for a trade, occupation or profession, observers of the labor-market recognize as of 2008 the need to continue training beyond initial qualifications to maintain, upgrade and update skills throughout working life. People within many professions and occupations may refer to this sort of training as professional development.” 

Professional development for all

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. 

Assessing skills and competences

How do employers measure their employees’ skills and competences? Obviously that varies a great deal. Industry or service? Desk job or production line? Highly specialized or low qualifications? Each industry or service sector develops its own set of criteria by which they can assess the level of skills and competences inherent to a specific job. 

In many cases, professional development is the driver for ongoing training. But in some industry sectors where safety is crucial, workers have to master very specific knowledge and skills. Take the Ex industry for instance, where workers’ skills and competence are of the utmost importance. 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. 

Personnel competence critical to the Ex industry 

Safety in explosive/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, in a different environment, lead directly to explosions that not only destroy property but can cost human lives or cause severe injuries. 

The IECEx solution

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 Certificate of Personnel Competence (CoPC) Scheme in early 2010. 

The CoPC 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 international IECEx certificate 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 CoPC 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. 

Certifying the workforce

The CoPC Scheme met with instant success. For companies, whether they operate globally, regionally or locally, compliance with regulations and standards is a given and competence for safety is a top priority. Over the years, employers the world over have sent their workforce to be assessed and certified by IECEx certification bodies (ExCBs). 

Training CoPC applicants

With the CoPC Scheme up and running, industry came up with a complementary request, i.e. the establishment of a training programme that would assist applicants in their preparation for the CoPC. And in 2015 IECEx launched the IECEx Recognized Training Provider (RTP) programme for organizations that have specific programmes in support of IEC International Standards and the IECEx System. 

These RTPs provide candidates with knowledge and understanding on the terminology and protection concepts for electrical equipment used in explosive atmospheres, based on the IEC 60079 series of International Standards. They cover theoretical and practical assessments and assist candidates in selecting and preparing for the relevant units of competence. 

While some applicants only need one or two units, others may select a few more or go all the way and prepare for the complete set of 10 units. 

10 units of competence

The CoPC Scheme consists of 10 units of competence:

  • Unit Ex 000 – Basic knowledge and awareness to enter a site which includes a classified hazardous area
  • Unit Ex 001 – Apply basic principles of protection in explosive atmospheres
    This unit of competence covers the basic principles of protection in explosive atmospheres of plant and machinery. Ex 001 is based on various parts of IEC 60079 series, and it is a prerequisite for the higher units
  • Unit Ex 002 – Perform area classification of hazardous areas
  • Unit Ex 003 – Install explosion-protected equipment and wiring systems
  • Unit Ex 004 – Maintain equipment in explosive atmospheres
  • Unit Ex 005 – Overhaul and repair of explosion-protected equipment
  • Unit Ex 006 – Test electrical installations in or associated with hazardous areas
  • Unit Ex 007 – Perform visual and close inspections of electrical equipment in or associated with hazardous areas
  • Unit Ex 008 – Perform detailed inspection of electrical installations in or associated with hazardous areas
  • Unit Ex 009 – Design electrical installations in or associated with Hazardous Areas
  • Unit Ex 010 – Perform audit inspection of electrical installations in or associated with hazardous areas 

The RTP programme has 19 RTPs in Europe, North America and Asia, but it is bound to grow, with other organizations currently at the application stage. The complete list of RTPs is on the IECEx website. 

For more on the units of competence, please see IECEx OD 504 and for information on the RTPs, please see IECEx OD 521. Both publications are on the IECEx website: www.iecex.com