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How can we improve on current gas training and assessment procedures? John Martin argues that modern technology can help to raise standards and remove conflicts of interest.
In the July edition, I voiced my concerns and criticism of the current gas training and assessment regime.
Since then I have had a very productive meeting with IGEM and other stakeholders to discuss in detail my concerns, and from this meeting it seemed clear that those present want to see robust management of the Managed Learning Programmes – as do the HSE.
I know it is always easy to criticise and much harder to offer constructive alternatives, so here I will present some potential options.
Get with the times
With regards to the re-assessment of the ACS, I do believe that the use of modern technology should be employed, after all, how many installers do not have a smartphone and tablet?
So why not remove a few layers of fees and bureaucracy, surely Gas Safe Register could increase their fees slightly and use an app to deliver updates and multi-choice questions to verify understanding.
This type of system would provide continual professional development, ensuring up to date knowledge and therefore, ongoing competence.
It would be easy to monitor the response rate, with feedback given regarding the number of correct answers along with an updated risk rating for the operative; questions answered incorrectly that are deemed to be safety critical matters would trigger an inspection.
Prizes for the most correct answers given in the shortest time could be awarded to encourage installers to respond quickly.
Using a traffic light system the installer could monitor his own risk rating much like people now monitor and manage their credit score, there could be additional questions asked as an option to address any previous weaknesses and reduce the risk rating.
The installer could also upload photographs, etc. The app would also make it easier and simpler to issue a RIDDOR report and so on.
For new entrants, an MoT/DVSA model could be used and UKAS should be removed from the picture as the organisation is not fit for purpose and has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
DVSA test approved MoT stations operate by presenting vehicles for the test which have defects. The ACS should be run along similar lines, somewhere between an MoT and driving test. Centres caught deliberately breaking or ignoring the rules should be permanently struck off.
The process could be managed directly by HSE or by Gas Safe Register. I recall when ACS was first launched, centres had heard that CORGI would be putting mystery shoppers into centres to ensure standards were maintained, as soon as it was clear this was not going to happen standards started to slip. 20 years on, they have now slipped considerably.
For the purposes of the Managed Learning Programmes (MLP), currently the preferred route into the gas industry, I believe the use of technology should also be utilised more. Evidence of workplace experience using geo-tagging would make verification of authenticity easier and more robust, while at the same time making it much harder for those using ‘portfolio factories’ to create evidence for mass circulation, thus allowing proper audits to be undertaken by those required to do so, such as certification and oversight bodies.
The key point regardless of what system is employed is that there must be a desire in the first place to deliver a quality training and assessment regime and a willingness to scratch the surface when undertaking audits for compliance purposes. Those conducting the audits should be free from any conflicts of interest – that is most certainly not what we currently have.
So there you have it: a starter for ten. It would be interesting to hear suggestions for reform from installers (please send any comments to the editor via email: firstname.lastname@example.org).