Expert Interview with Dr. Thorsten Arnhold: “It will be easier for the operator to find suitable personnel”

“It is very important that German experts are part of the creation of the new scheme” Dr-Ing. Thorsten Arnhold is divisional head of department product management and marketing at company R. STAHL.

CT: What does the new IECEx scheme mean for the qualification of personnel in the chemical industry?
Arnhold: As the starting level of qualification of employees in the process industry differs very much in different parts of the wold, it is not possible to give a general answer to this question. In Germany, where there has been a very high level of basic qualification (skilled workers) and special qualification (e.g. qualified person for hazardous areas) for decades now and where the organizational regulations have been improved continuously, the new scheme surely does not have a direct effect. In threshold countries, for example in the booming markets in Asia, North Africa or Central Asia, however, there is still a lot of work to be done in regard to qualification of employees and organization of safety in potentially explosive areas. Here, IECEx CoPC helps to accelerate the adjustment process to the level of the leading countries. With this “development aid” IECEx of course also supports the large German chemical and pharmaceutical companies in establishing high safety standards in the plants that are built and operated in the threshold countries. So it is very important that German experts take part in the shaping of the new scheme: The more intensely they take part, the more it is to be expected that proven German practice will be incorporated in the international demands on specialists for potentially explosive areas.

CT: In your opinion, where is currently the biggest need for action in regard to expertise in explosion protection?
Arnhold: I see the biggest need for action in the establishment of a basic qualification level which includes an understanding of the fundamental technical and organisational contexts. An employee who installs and operates explosion-protected equipment has to be able to understand the information given on the rating plate or in the operating instructions and implement them correctly. For example, an installer has to know that a flameproof cable entry has to be fitted to a flameproof encapsulated enclosure. Our experience in the international business teaches us that this is by no means a matter of course.
The tasks that have to be fulfilled in safety-critical areas, from planning to installation, commissioning and during the complete subsequent life cycle, are certainly varied and complex.
That is why there is usually no comprehensive basic expertise for work in hazardous areas. This fact is met by IECEx CoPC by organizing the possibilities of certification in so-called units. Depending on the work that has to be done in hazardous areas, a specialist can be certified for one or several units. For example, a planner is certified for his or her ability to correctly define the required safety technology and classify the Zones and an installer is, among other things, certified for his or her understanding of the information that is given on the rating plates and the knowledge of the correct installation technologies.

CT: What opportunities does the plant operator have on the one hand and the service personnel on the other hand?
Arnhold: After a world-wide introduction of the new scheme it will be easier for plant operators to find suitable personnel for the facilities. The online database of IEC-Ex contains all certified specialists and states their certified units.  Of course, this does not release operators from their obligation to guarantee safety in a plant, but they can count to a large degree on the fact that the certified employee knows his or her business. Like any other proof of qualification, a certificate improves the value of one’s own labour and increases the flexibility of the service personnel. The fact that in more than one year since the creation of the new certification scheme about 100 people have been certified speaks for the arising opportunities.