6.5.1 Competence Assessment

To be authorised and deemed competent to work on or adjacent to electrical systems, employees must demonstrate the required combination of knowledge, training and experience. The rules ought to stipulate that the authorisation be carried out in writing using a certificate of competence. In that way, there are no doubts about what the individual is authorised to do as well as what they are not allowed to do.

So, where do we start in assessing competence? For existing direct employees, it is probably best to start with a framework for competence followed by an appraisal comprising an interview and a short technical competence test. Managers are often mistaken in the belief that this will be somehow demoralising; when in fact, experience shows that it can be motivating to find that one’s skills are being formally recorded and recognised in such a way. Indeed, there is good evidence to show that the human brain is wired for competence. To quote the author and neuroscientist Dean Burnett, “Our brains desire a sense of competence and when we feel that we’re competent, we’re more likely to be happy”. In 2015, the Guardian newspaper looked at several surveys to try and find the happiest occupations and concluded that the job of engineer came out on top. Being an engineer, that is no surprise to me. I have been so fortunate to have enjoyed a degree of control, competence and being fairly well paid which is often associated with the role. In conclusion, if competence assessments are followed up by formal periodic reviews and built into personal development plans, this can have a beneficial effect on morale.

6.5.2 Competence of Contractors

The competence of contractors also needs to be addressed which is exemplified in Chapter 12: Myths and Mistakes where a contractor was killed on a manufacturing plant. The company ordering the work was prosecuted for (i) not ensuring that the subcontractor was sufficiently competent to perform such work and (ii) not ensuring a safe system of work was in place. The authorisation and assessment procedure mentioned under safety rules previously, should be implemented for any electrical work by employees and contractors. I have on several occasions found engineers working on energised high-power electrical equipment with no formal electrical qualifications at all. Large refrigeration control equipment regularly contains high current busbar systems in excess of 800 amperes at low voltage. However, electrical training is purely supplemental to some refrigeration engineers or perhaps a skill that has just been acquired over time.

For contracting companies and agencies, it is suggested that their employees must satisfy the requirements of the company safety rules and procedures in a similar way to direct employees. Temporary certificates of competence can be issued to contract employees for specific construction, maintenance or repair projects. There needs to be some recognition of emergency situations but there needs to be dialogue in anticipation of unplanned events.

6.5.3 Competence of Contractors

It is very important to consider the competence of an accompanying person when live working is involved. It is necessary to consider the role of this person in the achievement of safe working, in other words: why are they there? And what are they to do? The usual role is to be able to electrically isolate the installation, system or equipment without endangering himself or herself when something goes wrong and to render help to the worker carrying out the live work activity. They can also play a significant part in securing and managing the work area. The usual training, assessment and authorisation of such persons is necessary and appropriate criteria must be applied.

6.5.4 Competence of Contractors

The creation of a competence matrix which will detail the minimum or preferred attainment in each area of competence is essential. Firstly, define a list of work categories for which the employee will receive an authorisation. For instance, the employee may be given an authorisation as a competent person carrying out dead work only. Another example is as a competent person testing and commissioning or perhaps as a competent person supervising others. Against each competence will be the minimum or preferred attainments. A list of these attainments could be as follows but clearly there could be many others depending upon the complexity of the work.

  1. Professional or craft qualifications. Maybe these can be grouped for simplicity so one group could be Professional Qualification, Degree, relevant professional body or National Vocational Qualification Level 5 (NVQ5). The second group could have a relevant Engineering at HNC or NVQ level 4, the third a recognised apprenticeship, NVQ level 3 and so on.
  2. Formal Training in Health and Safety. This can be carried out in house, but I can recommend the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) courses that can be delivered by accredited trainers on site. There is IOSH Working Safely which is a one-day course for people at any level in the organisation. For those in a supervisory or managerial capacity, I would recommend the IOSH Managing Safely which is usually four days in duration plus a day practical assessment. A need for a higher qualification may be thought appropriate so there may be another attainment level on the competence matrix for a qualification at NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety or higher.
  3. Experience. A requirement for appropriate experience in years.
  4. Externally Assessed Competence Cards. For electrical contracting workers in the United Kingdom the requirements of the Electro-technical Certification Scheme (ECS) is a very good start. The scheme is administered by the Joint Industry Board (JIB) for the Electrical Contracting Industry. It not only covers the traditional electrical contracting electrician but other electro-technical disciplines such as Electrical Fitters, Instruments Technicians, Maintenance Electricians, Wireman/Panel Builder, Building Controls, Emergency & Security Fitters, Cable Jointers and Telecommunications Fitters. Before a card can be issued the individual will have to prove technical and vocational qualifications, age and minimum experience and health & safety awareness. It is externally assessed and good value requiring very little administrative work on behalf of the company.
  5. Specific Vocational Training. This classification could include formal training on particular pieces of equipment or perhaps electrical installation wiring regulations.
  6. Continuing Professional Development (CPD). A requirement could be to highlight ongoing enhancement of skills. This could be important where the competence of an individual may be dependent upon upskilling and keeping up to date with latest developments in a particular field or piece of equipment.
  7. Review and Audit Requirements. There may be a formal review and or audit procedure out of which a particular classification could be highlighted on the matrix.