HSE&T Corner: Training program targets crews working with equipment in hazardous locations

Posted on 24 January 2014

By Joanne Liou, associate editor

CompEx training includes three days of instruction on the standards and two days of practical tests and an exam. The CompEx program began in the UK in 1994, and the first US CompEx center opened in Houston in 2010.

CompEx training includes three days of instruction on the standards and two days of practical tests and an exam. The CompEx program began in the UK in 1994, and the first US CompEx center opened in Houston in 2010.

More training requirements could be on the way for the Gulf of Mexico if rulemaking proposed last June by the US Coast Guard (USCG) goes through. Under the proposal, certain pieces of equipment, such as motors, controllers and junction boxes, located in hazardous areas onboard drilling rigs will need to be certified in accordance with the International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC). “A hazardous location is any area with the potential to have an explosive atmosphere present, such as gas, combustible dust or combustible solid particles,” Wayne Mayo, technical training specialist at Intertek, said.

To meet certification requirements as specified under IEC 60079-14 and IEC 60079-17, personnel involved in the application design, as well as the selection, installation and maintenance, of those types of equipment must be trained under programs such as CompEx.

CompEx was jointly developed by the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users’ Association and JTLimited to meet IEC standards. Since the program began in 1994, more than 44,000 employees from drilling contractors, service companies and equipment manufacturers have been CompEx certified in gas and vapor modules, Martin Jones, CompEx operations manager for JTLimited, said. JTLimited is accredited by the UK Accreditation Service to provide CompEx certification worldwide.

“In Europe and other parts of the world, major operators will not let electrical or mechanical craftspersons work on their rigs unless they are certified to meet those requirements,” Mr Jones said.

If the USCG begins to require IECEx equipment – which means it’s certified for use in hazardous areas – personnel may have to work with equipment that is different than the equipment under North American standards, Mr Mayo explained. “Most personnel working in hazardous areas will face labeling, equipment types, protection techniques and installation requirements that they have never seen before,” he said.

IECEx equipment is designed and built to operate safely in a potentially explosive atmosphere, but “it’s very easy for the operators and (maintenance crews) to negate that protection simply by leaving out cover bolts or installing the wrong hole plug,” Mr Mayo noted. In the US, “there’s never been a required training program. Seven years ago, I could not get that education in the US, and I had to go to Scotland for CompEx.” The first US CompEx center, Offshore Commissioning Solutions, opened in Houston in June 2010.

The CompEx program verifies the knowledge and skills of people who could influence the integrity of installations, such as project, maintenance, procurement and quality assurance managers. It consists of three days of instruction on the theory of the standards and then two days for four practical tests and a theory exam. Re-validations of competency are required every five years.

The four CompEx practical assessments, which include preparation and installation of various IECEx equipment and inspection, verify that candidates can install equipment, including intrinsically safe equipment, as well as inspect heavy-duty equipment. “There are four modules to prove whether they can carry out all the types of work that will be required of a craftsman who’s electrically based on a drilling rig or oil platform to ensure that person won’t give rise to danger if he installs equipment correctly. Even if he’s not sure, he’s now aware, and he knows where to get the information and where to go because we’ve lifted his level of awareness,” Mr Jones said.

Understanding the potential hazard and whether the equipment being installed and operated is safe within a particular environment is key.

“If you don’t understand that, you may have hung the piece of equipment on the wall, which may be fashioned to work in a hazardous environment but not that hazardous environment,” Mr Mayo explained, noting that equipment could be “a potential time bomb.”

The public comment period for the proposed rulemaking affecting operations in the GOM closed 30 November and is under review.

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