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Demonstrating Competence In Quarrying

This article outlines the key issues regarding the demonstration of competence, as required under the Quarries Regulations 1999, and lists the current national vocational qualifications that can provide the necessary competence assurance. Based on the HSE Sector Information Minute (SIM) issued to inspectors on 1 September 2005, the article contains essential information for all those involved in the management of health and safety in the industry, including HR personnel with responsibility for appointing staff.

It is a requirement of Regulation 9 of the Quarries Regulations 1999 (QR99) that all those working at a quarry are competent, whether or not they are employees of the quarry operator, and that there are sufficient competent people on site to manage the quarry and supervise as necessary.

A lack of health and safety competence is an underlying cause revealed by investigations into accidents and poor standards in the quarrying industry, where traditionally experience has been assumed to mean competence and little investment has been made in education to provide decision-makers with underpinning knowledge to the necessary standards. Quarrying has the third highest fatal injury rate to employees of all industries in Britain, at 5.9 per 100,000 workers (compared with construction at 4.6 per 100,000; HSE statistics 2004–2005). By addressing competence in a structured way, health and safety standards in the workplace can be improved dramatically and the accident rate reduced.

The requirement for competence is not restricted only to quarry managers and those who work on site, but also includes all those in the management structure whose decisions affect quarry operations. This includes, for example, senior managers and human resources personnel.

COMPETENCE

Although requiring ‘information, instruction, training and supervision’, the Health and Safety at Work Act does not mention competence. Similarly, many subsequent health and safety regulations require ‘information, instruction and training’ for those who might be affected by health and safety risks arising from their work activity, but do not overtly require the measurement of competence to do the job. Competence should not be confused with academic qualifications or experience — there are no grandfather rights.

The Quarries Regulations 1999 are different both from the more general health and safety regulations, and also from the previous Mines and Quarries Act. No one can work in a quarry unless they are competent (or they are under the supervision of a competent person), using the same definition used in PUWER 1998, based on knowledge, experience, training and other qualities related to the job they are employed to do.

The Quarries Regulations 1999 also require the quarry operator to demonstrate this competence (Regulation 7). This applies not only to the actual quarry site, but also to anyone in the management structure with influence over that site. Thus, the managing director has to be both competent and able to demonstrate that he is competent to undertake his duties with respect to the quarry, as set out in the quarry health and safety document. The same applies to geologists, personnel managers, surveyors, engineers, area managers etc, including those who may be contractors.

How can competence be demonstrated?

Under QR99 formal professional qualifications are required for some specialist activities; for example, geotechnical engineers must be either chartered engineers or chartered geologists with three years’ relevant experience (QR99, Regulation 2). For others, competence should be measured against the National Occupational Standards in the relevant practical and/or managerial skills (Regulation 9 and L118, ‘Health and Safety at Quarries’, guidance paragraph 74).

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (working with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and ACCAC in Wales) sets standards through the National Qualifications Framework. This identifies the level of responsibility and knowledge required for different job types. National Occupational Standards developed by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) identify the competencies needed for specific tasks, such as blasting operations. S/NVQs (eg Shotfiring Level 3) provide a means for the individual to demonstrate that he or she has this competence at the time of assessment.

The status of the National Occupational Standards for demonstrating competence can be compared to the status of a British or European Standard, which may be used by an enforcing authority as the standard for other health and safety requirements, eg the nationally accepted standard of guarding for a troughed belt conveyor is to BS 7300. The National Occupational Standards can be used in court in a similar way.

The advantage of nationally recognized assessment systems such as the S/NVQ is that, in obtaining the qualification, each person has had his or her knowledge and experience checked systematically in his or her working environment, with any omissions identified and remedial actions taken. For the individual, the qualification is transferable between sites or employers, as the standard of achievement reached is clear. It can be built upon as new skills are required for career development.

S/NVQs do not discriminate on the basis of past educational achievements; for example, a degree is not necessary as a prerequisite to an NVQ Level 4 or 5. Those who achieve Level 4 or 5 are eligible to be members of The Institute of Quarrying.

An alternative nationally recognized system for the demonstration of competence is via the Engineering Council’s staged-membership scheme, which, for the extractive industry, is administered through the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). Achievement of Level 4 or 5 NVQ counts towards membership, and members can progress through the grades of engineering technician, incorporated engineer and chartered engineer, with an assessment of their competence against the Engineering Council’s standards at each stage. Further information is available on the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining web site (www.iom3.org).

Further national systems may be developed in future that would also fulfil the requirements of QR99. However, only those outlined above have been identified to date.

The references to S/NVQs in L118, ‘Health and Safety at Quarries’, have the status of guidance. In theory, therefore, a quarry operator could decide not to adopt S/NVQs and instead implement some other means of demonstrating a competent workforce against the National Occupational Standards. This would, however, need to be as effective as the nationally recognized and industry-agreed S/NVQ system, and it would take a great investment in time and effort to develop an equivalent in-company scheme. Such a scheme would not have all the advantages of the S/NVQ system.

Appendix 1 is a current list (as at June 2005) of the relevant NVQs accredited by EMP (formerly EPIC) Awarding Body Ltd, the relevant awarding body for the quarry industry. Further information and updates are available on the EMP web site (www.empawards.com).

HSE’s operational policy position is that by obtaining S/NVQs workers are able to show they have reached a common understanding of their duties under the regulations. Legal advice has confirmed that this operational policy position is viable and proportional to the risks involved.

Action by inspectors

The regulations require everyone in the quarry and in the management structure, both on and off site, to be competent before work starts, and the operator and workforce have to be able to demonstrate this competence. The National Occupational Standards for health, safety and environmental management in the quarrying industry were available when QR99 came into force, and should be used as the benchmark. DAPS, mining engineering or quarrying degrees, MScs etc all provide good underpinning knowledge, but this knowledge is not evidence of competence.

However, the S/NVQs in Health, Safety and Environmental Management were not launched until 2002 and not all candidates registered on these schemes will have fully achieved them to date.

Previously inspectors were required to ‘actively encourage’ quarry operators to be able to demonstrate the competence of their workforce using the recognized national framework, and to develop and maintain their skills through continuing professional development (CPD). It should now be the expectation that operators are able to do so. It is the QNJAC’s target that the industry will be fully competence assured by 2010.

Inspectors visiting quarries for inspections or investigations will be expected to ask what steps the operator is taking to demonstrate the competence of the workforce, including managers. Where there is evidence of poor health and safety standards on the site, inspectors will pursue enquiries into the competence of those involved.

Keeping records, such as those suggested by The Institute of Quarrying and other professional bodies’ CPD schemes, is a demonstration of commitment to the development and maintenance of competence. The EPIC voluntary code of practice for training mobile plant operators includes an example of assessed CPD for operators.

ENFORCEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

Formal enforcement (eg Improvement Notice) will be considered by inspectors where, for example:

  • those in charge of site operations (eg Regulation 8(i) appointees) are unable to demonstrate their competence against National Occupational Standards, relevant to the risks they are supposed to manage
  • the management structure does not reflect the operational reality on site or does not include all those who influence health and safety
  • the operator has no programme in place to address the requirements of QR99, Regulation 9
  • CPD is not being undertaken and recorded.

During incident investigations the issue of competence of those involved will be pursued, and recent inspector experience demonstrates that, at an early stage of an investigation, consideration will be given to the evidence required to support a possible charge under Regulation 9. The Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996 requires the enforcing authority to pursue all reasonable avenues of enquiry.

In preparing a case under QR99 Regulation 9 the following matters will need to be proven:

  1. National Occupational Standards are the recognized benchmark for competence.
  2. All relevant industry stake-holders (including HSC/E) were consulted in the development of these standards.
  3. Detailed evidence of those parts of the relevant standards that have or have not been met will need to be gathered.

Documentary evidence that inspectors will gather is likely to include:

  • job description
  • personal training records
  • competence assessments
  • CPD records
  • records relating to previous employment and training in the industry.

Through comparison of these with the relevant National Occupational Standards, inspectors will be able to identify gaps in training and experience. They will then investigate these gaps and establish in evidence whether or not a person has suitable competence.

INSPECTOR COMPETENCE

It is important to note that the requirement under Regulation 9 also applies to an inspector while working at a quarry site. Operators have every right to ask the inspector to demonstrate his or her competence. The inspector does not require the same competence as the quarry manager, but has to demonstrate his or her competence as an inspector working in the quarrying industry.

Inspectors should be prepared to describe their training, relevant qualifications, NVQ achievement, and how they maintain their competence through CPD and professional memberships, such as The Institute of Quarrying, IOSH etc. It is incumbent upon quarry inspectors to be able to demonstrate their continuing competence within the framework of the Regulation 9 requirements.

General inspectors involved with quarry work should understand and accept the limitations of their competence, particularly with regard to geotechnical stability and explosives use. They should not become too involved in these issues without requesting specialist assistance from the regional quarry inspector. This does not mean that these topics can or should be ignored during quarry visits by general inspectors, since they are potentially the greatest hazards on site and are often poorly understood by the industry. For example, a general inspector could ask questions about the design, tip and excavation rules, machinery selection for working faces and stockpiles, or shotfiring rules, and compare these with the requirements of L118 and other relevant guidance.

The larger quarry operating companies are well aware of who the quarry inspectors are, and there will be an expectation that a general inspector will defer to the specialist inspector when appropriate.

Requests for further information and/or specific enquiries should be directed to the HSE’s Metals and Minerals Group, Manufacturing Sector, Cardiff.

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