Operator Qualification: 2023 Industry Trends

Discover the top three industry trends to help you improve your OQ program.

The OQ regulatory landscape has experienced some recent changes; and likely more on the horizon. 

With the help of our OQ expert, Tom Meek, we’ve broken down current trends and summarized the main areas YOU need to know and start implementing today.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) OQ Enforcement

PHMSA’s Pipeline Safety Enforcement Program exists to monitor and enforce compliance with pipeline safety regulations. If you are not meeting expectations for a safe and environmentally sound operation at your facilities, you could face some serious violations. 

Here are a few simple ways to help you ensure compliance:

  • Follow a written operator qualification program.
  • Follow your own written operations and maintenance manual/policies and procedures.
  • Maintain your OQ records. This includes your own internal records, as well as the records of all your contractors. You can contract the work but you cannot contract the regulatory responsibility.
  • Notify PHMSA if you have a significant change to your OQ program.
  • Follow a program for non-qualified individuals that are under direct observation of a qualified person.

Implications of New PHMSA FAQ’s #7 and #8

New OQ FAQs were released on January 28, 2022 to provide guidance around complying with the legacy rule. While the FAQs don’t carry the weight of the existing regulations, they were released for a reason — to aid businesses in their quest for compliance.

In the past, a ready-to-work person had qualifications and training “as appropriate.” A qualified person could demonstrate qualifications (knowledge, skills, and abilities) during an evaluation and never have received any training or may have received some training that was undocumented. Training does not automatically mean qualification. A worker can train for something for a long time and never actually be qualified to perform tasks on a pipeline. Similarly, qualification is separate from training, which is a successful demonstration of your knowledge, skills, and abilities in front of an evaluator.

FAQ #7 states you must demonstrate qualification AND training. Here are a few tips for incorporating training into your program:

  • Include new and existing employees, even those with considerable experience.
  • Take equipment variations or differences into account when building your program.
  • Make training specific to your policies and procedures, and ensure they are accessible at the worker level.
  • Review specifics related to an organization’s unique pipeline or changes in procedures for performing a task. If a policy changes, make sure boots on the ground are aware.
  • Retrain after a failed qualification attempt.

FAQ #8 refers to the role of computer-based or web-based training when complying with the OQ rule. This is how you ensure compliance with this method of training:

  • Training must address an operator’s pipeline system characteristics.
  • Training must be equipment specific.
  • Training must include the operator’s procedures.
  • Training programs and methods may be reviewed by regulators during inspections.

Importance of New York’s New OQ Rule

All states are required to follow federal regulations at minimum but they are also authorized to go above and beyond. 

It’s crucial you pay attention to New York’s new OQ rule, announced in March 2022. Even though you may not have operations in New York state, don’t assume it doesn’t apply to you. Oftentimes, a new state regulation ends up being adopted by other states. New York state is setting the example for others to follow. So let’s get into it.

  • In addition to the usual four-part test to identify an OQ task, operators also need to break it down further into an additional two-part test. If it is performed on a pipeline facility, and affects the safety or integrity of the pipeline, it could be considered an OQ task. 
  • Limit Span of Control to individuals performing one covered task at a time.
  • Abnormal Operating Conditions should be operator-specific (rather than generic).
  • Hands on training is required, instead of just theory.
  • Training specific to procedures and equipment.
  • All training must be documented.
  • 48 hour delay between training and qualification – no longer just testing a worker’s short-term memory.
  • Evaluator requirements and training – evaluators must also be qualified and trained, which is above the federal standard.
  • Pipeline engineers must follow written program, training, mentoring, and evaluation process.

Be Proactive! Take Action for Compliance

Use the new FAQs as a guide to help you mitigate risk and reduce risk to the public and the environment. Focus on these 5 best practices to help you maintain a defensible OQ program.

  1. Offer training. Whether this means preparing for workplace safety or a specific job, training is the key to risk management. 
  2. Review policies and procedures. Ensure they are complete, and then determine the best way to communicate them to your workers. 
  3. Maintain records. Documentation of employee and contractor training should include all the basic information: name, task, qualification, and method of how they qualified, and be retained for 5 years for each worker.
  4. Ensure qualification.  Everyone who comes on-site to perform covered work must be qualified prior to performing covered task(s) or work under the control of a qualified employee. Verify individual qualifications before starting any project.  

Re-evaluate training needs. The FAQs recommend updating and reviewing the operator’s procedures particularly, in the event of any significant change.

How defensible is your OQ program?

Veriforce offers deep regulatory expertise to help you achieve an airtight program that will keep your business, workers, and surrounding communities safe. Discover our full-service implementation process, supported by Veriforce experts with real-world industry experience.

Total supply chain risk management starts here

Talk to Sales

See related resources