Human factors: Training & Competence

Why is competence important?

This can be defined as the ability to undertake responsibilities and perform activities to a recognised standard on a regular basis.  It is a combination of skills, experience and knowledge.  The inadequate management of competence has not only contributed to disasters such as Esso Longford and BP Texas City, but also to fatalities, personal injuries and ill health. 

Key principles in competence

  1. Competence assurance should be linked to key responsibilities, activities and tasks identified in risk assessments.
  2. Competency assurance systems should aim to establish and maintain competency for all those involved in safety-related work, including managers.  This is particularly important in the management and prevention of major accidents.
  3. Training is an important component of establishing competency but is not sufficient on its own. For example, consolidation of knowledge and skills through practice is a key part of developing competency.
  4. Competence assurance systems should take account of foreseeable work and operating conditions - including infrequent and complex activities, emergency situations and upsets, maintenance etc.
  5. Training and competence assessment methods should be appropriate to the hazard profile of the tasks being undertaken. For example, competency assurance systems for safety critical tasks should be more robust.
  6. 'On-the-job' training should be structured and linked to risk assessments and associated control measures including procedures. In safety critical environments, on-the-job training should be supported by other forms of training where appropriate eg classroom training, simulation.
  7. Training should be validated ('Did it deliver what it was supposed to?'), and evaluated ('Is this the right kind of training for our needs?') and recorded.
  8. There should be refresher training for infrequent, complex or safety critical tasks and this may include appropriate reassessment.
  9. Vocational qualifications should include site-specific aspects and link appropriately to the hazards and risks in your workplace.
  10. Aim to achieve a suitable balance between competence and supervision.
  11. Careful consideration should be given to the potential consequences of outsourcing of safety-related work. Companies must take steps to ensure that contractors are competent to carry out health and safety-related work. Companies should seek to retain intelligent customer capability to ensure that they can appropriately manage and oversee the work.

More information on competence

The purpose of this guidance is to help companies manage the competence of their staff who are involved with the functional safety of electronic safety-related systems for protection or control (eg fly-by-wire in aircraft, shutdown systems in the petrochemical industry and offshore, and safeguarding arrangements for machinery and industrial automation).

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