At the end of July 2007 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in partnership with the Institution of Engineering Technology (IET) and the British Computer Society (BCS), published new guidance to help companies manage the competence of their staff involved with electronic safety-related systems - which includes safeguarding machinery and industrial automation, as well as applications such as shutdown systems in the petrochemical and offshore industries.
The new publication ‘Managing Competence for Safety-Related Systems’ describes the essential requirements for a successful competence management system (CMS) suitable for staff at all levels of responsibility within organisations working on safety-related systems.
This guidance recognises the importance of competence requirements in international standards such as IEC 61508 ‘Functional safety of electrical/electronic/programmable electronic safety-related systems’. Moreover, while the focus is on the functional safety of safety-related systems, the principles of the guidance can be applied to competence management systems with more general scopes, as well as career development and professional development schemes.
The guidance has been published in two parts: Key guidance and Supplementary material. At the front of the Key guidance is a note to the effect that it is not compulsory to follow the 'good practice' guidance but doing so will normally be enough to comply with the relevant law. In particular, the guidance is aimed at the following groups:
- People responsible for functional safety
- People responsible for setting up a new competence management system (CMS) for functional safety or further developing an existing CMS
- People responsible for operating an existing CMS
- People responsible for career development of staff
- People that are employed or might be employed on projects that require formal competence management
However, it should be borne in mind that the effort expended in meeting the principles of the guidance should be in proportion to the risk associated with inadequate competence. In general, the effort will be commensurate with that required for other safety management activities.
The guidance goes to some lengths to explain what is meant by competence and what is required of a person if they are to be competent to perform a particular task. Furthermore, an individual's competence is not 'black or white'; rather the individual may be competent for some tasks but require training, development and/or experience to be competent for other tasks.
An explanation of the competence model is also given in the guidance, and terms such as role, work activity and competence criteria are defined.
Other useful sections in the guidance cover legislation, standards and the 15 management principles that are spread over four phases of a CMS: planning, design, operation and review. Internal links within the PDF version of the guidance make it easy to jump between relevant sections, and an Appendix at the end of Part 1 lists topics for which competence criteria for safety-related systems are likely to be required.
Ways by which the 15 principles can be realised are suggested in Part 2 of the guide (Supplementary material). In addition, Part 2 has an example competence model and guidance for individuals that are required to have their competence assessed and managed.
The new guidance is essential reading for anyone with an interest in competence management in relation to safety-related control systems. Copies of the guidance can be downloaded free of charge as PDF files from the HSE website.
Having designed and implemented its own competency management scheme, Pilz can, depending on the customer's requirements, assist with planning, designing, operating and reviewing competency management systems to cover all levels of employees, from machine operatives to design and maintenance engineers, line managers and board directors.