I’ve recently been involved in a number of deep discussions regarding competency, and how it affects our role within the safety of pressure systems.
The HSE offer the following:
“Competence can be described as the combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. Other factors, such as attitude and physical ability, can also affect someone’s competence.”
Therefore it is a blend of ingredients. As any baking fan will tell you, if you do not have the correct ingredients in the correct amount, then you don’t have a nice cake. When that happens everyone knows it (which suggests it’s far easier to recognise incompetency as opposed to competency!).
Let’s look at our ingredients in isolation and, using a spanner analogy, consider how they affect competence:
A person may have been trained to use a spanner to tighten the bottom bolt on a widget; that’s all they can do. They do not know that the spanner can be used in a variety of applications.
The ability alone to use the spanner, but they may not know why they are using the spanner.
A person may have had a spanner instead of a dummy as a toddler. It’s second nature to them, but they may not know when it is the right tool to use.
A qualification alone does not make you competent. A person may have a Doctorate in Engineering. They may be able to calculate the maximum torque that can be applied. However, they may not know how to use a spanner.
This person is reminiscent of Geoff Capes in his prime, they can use the spanner to loosen the nut that holds up the Forth Rail Bridge and tighten it. However, due to this muscle bulk, they can’t check the tightness on a retaining bolt in their Swiss watch.
This person can do anything, and don’t need to ask anyone for help or advice. They know best and are clearly the person you want in your organisation.
I’ve used extremes to make a point. Competence to perform a task is a blend of all these attributes, in the right amount. The next question is who can decide who is competent?
As Head of Engineering, I appoint my engineering team when they are judged to be competent. This involves a new joiner with qualifications and experience that can justify their engineering acumen, our training programme and assessment builds up the knowledge and experience applicable to their role. All the way through this process we monitor attitude. Once the management team are in agreement that a person in our employment is ready, I appoint them as a competent Engineering Surveyor. Of course, competency is an ongoing assessment – complacency can threaten competency.
One could argue that the best judge of competence is the individual themselves. Recognition that you need professional development requires moral courage, and my appointment letter emphasises this with the following phrase:
“A good engineer knows their limits. Therefore, you are to raise any queries relating to your duties to me in the first instance.”
As part of our ‘Safe’ solution, a Service Provider engineer is trained to carry out pressure systems safety examinations in accordance with a Written Scheme. I’m often asked whether our IOSH accredited training course, in isolation, makes them competent. The answer is categorically no. The reason for this is twofold;
We provide training which, as discussed above, is only one ingredient of competency.
They are not my employees; the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to carry out:
- risk assessments
- make arrangements to implement necessary measures,
- appoint competent people and
- arrange for appropriate information and training.
The Written Scheme of Examination specifies the scope and content of periodic examinations. This includes all components within a pressure system that may give rise to danger.
The Competent Examiner carries out the examination in accordance with the Written Scheme. The Competent Person draws up and/or certifies Schemes of Examination. They may (but do not have to be) the same person, and in the ‘Safe’ solution, the Service Provider fulfils the role of Competent Examiner, and we at Mandate are the Competent Person.
This approach relies on the Service Provider having a robust approach to determining competency. However, as the ‘Safe’ solution carries out an independent verification check on every examination report submitted, we can identify where an ingredient of the competency has slipped. When this occurs, we have a training and audit procedure. Working with the individual’s employer to manage and hopefully improve the standards.
- Competence is a blend of personal attributes – take one away and the competency cannot be fully justified.
- Complacency can threaten competency.
- The two people who can assess competency are yourself and your employer.
- Assessing competency with a robust approach demonstrates that it is being taken seriously.
Matthew Inness CEng CMgr
Head of Engineering