Many of you who follow exida’s blogs and webinars will know that we often talk about the requirement for competency. In fact, the 2016 edition of IEC61511 specifically addresses competency in more detail now than the 2003 version. The strong emphasis on competency is because the IEC61511 committee recognized that this was still an area that requires addressing. Furthermore, there is now an additional requirement to conduct period assessments of all those involved in the Safety Instrumented System (SIS) lifecycle, which would include the operations and maintenance people, as per clause 184.108.40.206.
I have often had conversations with clients about what competency really means. I believe the definition in IEC61508 is more succinct than the one in IEC61511, however, my own personal view is that competency is a blend of knowledge, experience, and capability. I firmly believe that the last point is very important since this is all about application. It’s all very well and good having the knowledge and even the relevant experience, but if you don’t know how to properly, apply the principles in practice, then this can lead to implementation problems (read systematic failures).
One way of demonstrating competence, is by achieving some practical certification that tests not only your knowledge but also how to put it in practice. The CFSE is an example of this. I remember one instance where someone chose to take the CFSE exam and turned up without any books, reference materials or even a copy of the IEC61511 standard. When asked why he hadn’t brought anything his response was that he had been doing safety-related work for 25 years and knew what he was doing. Or so he thought. Instead of taking the 4 hours for the case study portion and the 2 hours for the multiple choice, he completed the 6 hours in half the time. The result, as I’m sure you have already surmised, was that he failed miserably, which goes to show that just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean you have been doing it right or that you know it all. This is probably an extreme case, but there are still those that believe they are “experts” in the field when they may not be. Those of us working in the field of functional safety know that there is always something new to learn, which is why this is an ongoing process.
Consequently, the IEC61511 standard now requires “periodic” assessments to be undertaken; although, as a performance-based standard, it does not specify what that period of time should be or even how to perform the assessments. This is left up to the end user to decide upon. Some form of practical and/or written assessments could be done in combination but whatever approach is taken, it is necessary to document competency requirements, as well as how to develop competency.
We have been working with a number of companies to help them with their competency development and this is an area that companies involved in SIS development and/or operation need to focus on.
Another benefit of considering competency development is that it can help with being able to assess the skill levels required for succession planning. With the right competency development plan in place, it will be possible to develop the skills of less experienced personnel to be able to move into more senior positions as people move into retirement.
Look out for an upcoming exida webinar on competency requirements and development. You may find it useful.