Maintaining technical competence throughout the COVID-19 outbreak

As a result of published Government guidance on COVID-19, Continuing Competence test centres will close. This will have a knock-on effect for Technically Competent Managers (TCMs) who are set to renew their technical competence. Accordingly, Wiser Environment is communicating with relevant regulatory bodies and persuading them to take a pragmatic approach.

What is Technical Competence?

For waste sites that have an environmental permit, there is a requirement for the operator to evidence and maintain their technical competence. To initially demonstrate technical competence, an operator would complete the CIWM/WAMITAB Operator Competence Scheme through an approved centre and become a TCM.

Once the operator has successfully achieved their Operator Competence qualification, they are then required to maintain their competence by passing a Continuing Competence Test (CCT) every two years. Under normal circumstances, the CCT is held at Pearson VUE test centres across the UK. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused complications and resulted in test centres closing.

Why are Test Centres closing?

Key parts of the Government’s strategy in combating COVID-19 is to avoid all unnecessary gatherings and work from home where possible. This guidance is persuading many institutions, including the Environment Agency, to close their office spaces and work from home. Correspondingly, the latest statement from PearsonVue states that test centres are closed:

“Test delivery is currently suspended at the Pearson VUE-owned and operated Professional Centers (PPCs) throughout the UK.

Exam delivery services will resume once it is determined safe to do so.

Candidates will receive email cancellations, and they can attempt to reschedule exams at a later date at Candidates with cancelled exams will either receive a refund (if paid to Pearson VUE) or an extension as determined by your exam sponsor. We will continue to deliver exams to any third-party test centres still operational in the UK.”

As a consequence, there are a significant number of TCMs who are unable to maintain their technical competence and avoid breaching their permit. In other words, TCMs whose competence is due within the next few months will be unable to complete the CCT and maintain permit compliance.

Advice on maintaining technical competence compliance

This is a serious situation where businesses will be unfairly put at risk of enforcement. Hence, Wiser Environment has pointed out the potential problem out to the Environment Agency (EA). Wiser Environment’s source has suggested that if sites are struggling to meet the technically competent manager attendance requirements, then they should follow the following advice.

TCM has to self-isolate:
  • Having a TCM is still a requirement for waste sites that have an environmental permit.
  • Just in case a circumstance arises where a TCM has to self-isolate, sites should have a contingency plan in place.
  • For example – a robust management system, managerial pipeline and the alarm systems are in fully operational. These contingency plans should ensure that the site can be safely monitored.
  • If a site cannot be safely monitored, then that site should inform the EA.
  • Lastly, operators should record in their site diary when their TCM has been self-isolating.
TCM is due to take a Continuing Competence Test:
  • Pending changes to the Government guidance on COVID-19, the EA will not penalise those sites who were unable to take the CCT.
  • If a site is unable to take the CCT, then they should inform their local EA officer and WAMITAB.

In summary, Wiser Environment understands that EA are actively working alongside the Government to deal with the virus. However, at this time there is no official guidance or national steer on how technical competence will be impacted. As a consequence of these special circumstances, Wiser has received assurance that local enforcement will take a pragmatic approach: “document what you are doing and why and trust us [EA] to be reasonable in the aftermath.”