To perform nondestructive testing (NDT) in accordance with code requirements and customer expectations, Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW) systems and quality manager Harold Jansen says there is a need for NDT personnel to be competent.
“Competence of NDT personnel can be determined by asking two essential questions; can you perform NDT and can you prove it,” he explains.Jansen
says the response to the initial question very often contains at least one of the following terms: trained; qualified; skilled; experienced; certified; company authorised; customer approved; performance demonstrated; and continuous personnel development.
“All these terms are used within various international codes and standards, of which International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 9712 and American Society for Non-Destructive Testing SNT TC 1A are the most prominent in Africa,” highlights Jansen.
He warns further that the objective of the documents – which is to ensure and maintain qualification and certification of NDT personnel – is often lost when the focus is mainly on the upkeep of the documents themselves as opposed to maintaining actual competence.
Jansen emphasises that the essence of competence can be found in the answer to the second question, can NDT personnel prove that they can do NDT.
“Essentially, qualifications and certificates indicate that an individual was, at some stage, competent to perform a specific task, but unless the individual’s competence is monitored at regular intervals, competence becomes questionable, especially after extended periods. Within practical professions, like NDT, extended periods may be as little as a month, depending on the nature of the practical tasks,” he says.
Jansen highlights that the two fundamental questions should and can be asked at any time, noting that competence should not only be proved once or at five- or 10-year intervals.
“It must be constantly assessed, maintained and, moreover, continuously improved upon for an NDT individual to be regarded as qualified or certified and, most importantly, competent,” he says.
What Competence Means
Jansen explains that, before competence in the NDT arena can be defined, one needs to understand the difference between knowledge and skill. According to Jansen, knowledge can be defined as a grasp of the facts and information, while skills are acquired through experience or education.
“Therefore, knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject and skills are the ability to put this into practice in a professional and competent manner,” he points out.
He mentions that knowledge and skill are generally transferred to the student during classroom training generally performed by an approved training organisation (ATO) or approved training body.
Jansen points out that, in an NDT context, the definition of competence is the “continued development – learning, mentoring and demonstration; evaluation – examination, assessment and approval; mastering of skills through defined experience and outcomes; and the ability to perform NDT tasks as per the competences defined within the various qualification levels.”
Further, he explains that competence should be confirmed at realistic intervals through personnel certification, company authorisation and even customer approval, through a systematic process. Structured classroom training by ATOs is essential for initiating competency realisation, but structured industrial experience and continuous performance assessment is critical for achieving and maintaining competence.
How Competences Are Mastered
Jansen says, generally, within the NDT environment, competence and confidence can be achieved through basic steps. The first step is to study and understand supplied material, verbalise concepts in your own words, use search engines to enhance understanding and to increase subject background, and practise to master the skills and abilities of the personnel in the application of the knowledge gained.
The second step is to interact with fellow students and colleagues to better understand concepts and to formalise challenges and solutions. The third step is to seek out relevant and good teachers or subject experts within a structured ‘classroom’ environment and to continuously assess and measure your progress.
Jansen says the fourth step is to never be afraid of being mentored by an employer representative to understand company expectations and the reporting hierarchy and to encourage your self-assessment based on defined outcomes. The last step is to demonstrate to customers and end-users that you can perform the required job within the client requirements and anticipated deliverables.
“Therefore, competence and, consequently, confidence, in one’s knowledge and ability can be achieved through the interaction of the following entities: individual, peers, independent ‘expert’, employer and customer.”
Jansen implores the fabrication industry to never underestimate how crucial NDT is to the safety of structures. “This is an area of engineering and industry that we must never take for granted. Safety and the protection of human life is the engineer’s number one priority and NDT is at the heart of such a priority.”
He recommends that the NDT industry ensure that their competency levels are continuously tried and tested to ensure they are able to deliver the type of service the citizens of this county deserve.