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Understanding the importance of competence

Our guest columnist discusses the importance of competency when dealing with hazardous areas and the steps you can take to mitigate potential risks

Four large copper stills in a whisky distillery.

Before we start discussing competence, it’s important to understand how we classify a hazardous area. Any environment where an explosive atmosphere is present or could be expected should be designated as a hazardous area.

Unstable conditions are responsible for creating explosive atmospheres where a mixture of air and various gases, vapours, mists or dust ignite and rapid combustion spreads to the entire unburned mixture. This can lead to incidents which can result in the loss of life, serious injury and substantial damage to plant and machinery.

Hazardous areas must be documented in a Hazardous Area Classification drawing, which outlines the classifications of where gases, vapours or flammable liquids are found or stored.

Here, key information such as the likelihood and duration of an explosive atmosphere is included, and the area is given a zone classification. Zone 0 or 20 is considered the most hazardous while Zone 2 or 22 is deemed the least.

Control and management of potential sources of ignition and preventing the loss of primary containment is required across a number of industrial settings including on and offshore petrochemical production facilities, food and beverage manufacture, wood processing, pharmaceuticals, fuel forecourts, energy generation, utilities and maritime.

An industrial saw splits a log into four long planks of timber.

So how can we reduce the risk?

A skilled and competent workforce is crucial to mitigating risk. Through clearly outlined working practices and a business leadership that promotes a culture of safety, potentially disastrous events can be prevented.

Many widely recognised international standards and UK regulations state that employers are responsible

for managing and mitigating the risks associated with hazardous areas.

The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR) are focused on preventing the risk from fire and explosion and expect that employers will protect both their workforce and the public from any potential hazard.

Guidance can also be sought from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which provides a useful guide to controlling fire and explosion risks in the workplace. It also gives explanation on when DSEAR applies and what you need to do as an employer to comply.

International standards, such as the ISO/IEC 60079 series, also define the requirements for equipment, installation and maintenance activities within hazardous areas.

Competency is key

Competency is defined as the knowledge, skills, behaviours and experience to perform a task effectively and consistently. It is vital that people working in hazardous areas are competent to do so.

For employers it is important to acknowledge that training is not just

about an individual’s competency at one point in time, it’s about the role that they play in the wider culture and processes within the organisation.

It is also the responsibility of the employer to ensure that any core competence qualifications held by employees are valid and in date.

Support that CompEx can offer

CompEx is the international scheme for competency validation and certification of those who work in explosive atmospheres.

Through its network of nearly 60 global, independent approved training providers, CompEx offers a range of qualifications including the introductory level Foundation (ExF) for personnel who require an understanding of basic principles, through to more specialised courses such as Application Design Engineer (Ex12).

CompEx’s approved training providers are experts in hazardous areas and can offer further advice and guidance on what training and assessment will meet the needs of your employees and ultimately help to create a diverse set of workers.

As technology and innovation continue to progress alongside the transition towards a net zero future, the need for more flexible, technology-enabled training methods has never been so important.

CompEx has recently launched a new learning platform, LEDA, which supports continued knowledge and skills development for all candidates via an online learning management system. The service includes a range of learning resources as well as a series of pay-for courses and will soon provide candidates with the opportunity to purchase official practice exam papers.

For businesses to check that their employees are certified to work in potentially hazardous areas, CompEx offers a secure online Certification Verification tool on its website. This real-time tool also provides confirmation that qualifications are still in date.


Find out more

To find your local training provider, learn more about CompEx or to view the online store, visit If you have any enquiries or require further information, please contact CompEx directly at


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