Operator Qualification

Whether you already have an OQ program or are considering building one, we offer a range of OQ products and services, building on our own extensive operations and project experience.

Through our technical advisory services, you gain access to our experienced OQ specialists who will help you address your OQ challenges. We also provide support services such as training, control center operator simulator evaluations, and our Operations Performance Support System (OPSS).

Our OQ Products and Services

We provide the following OQ products and services both to companies with an existing program and those considering building one.

Complete OQ Programs

We have many years of experience building and implementing OQ programs for domestic and international customers. We can help you establish a program, avoid common pitfalls, ensure that you include all the tasks that are important for your operation, and carefully craft a successful implementation strategy. Our complete suite of OQ products and technical support services enables us to quickly and collaboratively build a complete OQ program.

We recommend initiating an OQ project by first conducting a gap analysis to determine how close your company’s existing qualification practices and procedures meet OQ and corporate requirements.

OQ Program Elements

For operating companies that want to upgrade an existing program, we have a complete set of products available, including customizable templates for written plans, records and forms, task analyses, knowledge and skill matrices, and training and evaluation tools. Our Operations Performance Support System[IF1]  (OPSS) delivers, administers, and helps manage training and evaluation processes and data. We can also supply experienced OQ specialists to assist with integration of our products and services.

OQ Program Audits and Reviews

We provide objective and confidential OQ program reviews and assessments to help operating companies determine whether they comply with current regulatory requirements.

An assessment typically consists of:

  • visiting your facilities;
  • reviewing your existing OQ program documentation, practices, procedures, and records;
  • interviewing your personnel; and
  • submitting a confidential report identifying any problem areas and potential solutions.

Simulator Evaluations for Control Center Operators

There's only one way to know for sure if pipeline controllers can recognize and respond appropriately to abnormal operating conditions (AOCs), and that's by exposing them to AOCs and assessing their reaction. Given that it's impossible to predict when or if an AOC will occur on an operating system, a very effective alternative is to use a computer-based pipeline simulator, structured AOC exercises and a qualified evaluator to assess controller performance. We can provide all these for either gas or liquids pipeline systems. The simulator interface and hydraulic model can be used as-is (generic), or customized to more closely represent your system. We can deliver the controller evaluation services at our international training center in Edmonton, Alberta, or directly at your worksite.

OQ Technical Advisory Services

Our experienced OQ specialists can provide technical advisory services in response to specific customer needs. We can help you decide how to identify covered tasks and abnormal operating conditions, select appropriate evaluation tools and methods, implement new regulatory requirements, and devise effective continuous improvement strategies.

Why OQ Is Important

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Office of Pipeline Safety published its Operator Qualification (OQ) in response to a series of accidents that were caused or made worse by human error. Root cause analysis had determined that in some cases, pipeline personnel had insufficient qualifications to properly and safely conduct operations or maintenance (O&M) activities. The intent of OQ is to ensure that O&M personnel are properly trained and qualified, which should reduce the likelihood and severity of pipeline accidents caused by operator error. Many pipeline companies outside of the U.S. are interested in OQ, primarily because it’s the closest thing to a standard regarding the qualification and training of pipeline personnel.

OQ applies to anyone who performs “covered tasks”, which are defined as any DOT-regulated O&M task performed on a pipeline facility that could adversely affect pipeline operation or integrity if performed incorrectly. A typical federally-regulated liquid or gas pipeline in the U.S. will have 50-100 covered tasks. The rule states that persons who independently perform covered tasks must be qualified, using any appropriate combination of exams, tests, and/or performance evaluations. A training program must also be available to address any gaps in an individual’s qualifications. Two basic elements are evaluated for each covered task: performance of the routine aspects (normal procedures); and recognition and response to abnormal operating conditions (AOCs).

Covered tasks include:

  • inspecting or servicing a pipeline valve;
  • inspecting a right of way;
  • marking a buried pipeline prior to excavation;
  • installing a pipeline sleeve;
  • calibrating a pressure transmitter;
  • starting up or shutting down a pipeline; and
  • many more.

Evaluation of abnormal operating conditions should include “generic” AOCs (such as leak or fire response) and task-specific AOCs (e.g. excavator strikes pipeline during backfilling).

As it stands today, OQ is primarily concerned with protection of people, property and the environment from pipeline accidents. It concerns itself only with qualification on tasks that can have an immediate or long-term adverse effect on a pipeline system. OQ includes tasks performed in pipeline control centers but it does not include any of the following tasks: tasks that are not performed on a pipeline (such as repair work done in a shop); tasks that are governed or regulated by other U.S. regulatory agencies (e.g. Occupational Safety & Health Administration; Environmental Protection Agency); tasks not specifically identified in U.S. federal pipeline safety regulations; and tasks that are not O&M, such as new construction or engineering.

Strengths and Weaknesses of OQ

The OQ regulation contains many noteworthy requirements, including continuous improvement, management of change, and flexibility in how the program is implemented. The focus on evaluation is an efficient strategy because individuals who successfully complete assessments can avoid taking expensive, inconvenient, and sometimes unnecessary training courses. The definition of “covered task” is very good because it centers on tasks that most operating companies would agree are very important for safe operations.

On the other hand:

  • The goal-based nature of OQ has made it difficult for some operating companies to understand what constitutes a “good” OQ program.
  • Many key outputs—including covered tasks, AOCs, and evaluation methods and instruments—were left to each company to determine. This sometimes resulted in poor quality OQ programs.
  • OQ only concerns itself with tasks regulated by the DOT, omitting some pipeline business-critical tasks, such as metering and product quality measurement.
  • Management of contractor qualifications has been a challenge for many operating companies.

Current Developments

In the U.S., the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is inspecting OQ programs using inspection protocols that were developed during 2002-2004. These protocols are available on the web, and can help operating companies understand what regulators want to see in an operating company’s OQ program.

In 2006, ASME published B31.Q, Qualification of Pipeline Personnel. B31.Q has its own list of Covered Tasks and contains several new program elements such as portability of qualifications and enhanced training processes. It is possible that U.S. pipeline safety regulators will incorporate some, all, or none of B31.Q. To date there have been no new proposed rulings from PHMSA on this topic.

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