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Drilling competence – what’s the current proof?

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BDA Driller Accreditation is dead and buried. Its passing away went largely unannounced but it no longer exists. The British Drilling Association (BDA) has rolled out a new model, more fit for present and ongoing times. It’s called BDA AUDIT and features many improvements over its predecessor, being more embracing, inclusive and rigorous. With CDM 2007 making greater demands on the assessment of competence prior to workforce engagement, new BS EN geotechnical standards for auditing of drilling personnel and CSCS requirements, BDA Audited drilling operatives will supply the necessary third party proof of competence.

There’s been a sea change since the BDA Driller Accreditation Scheme came into being during 1991, some 16 years ago. The Scheme was originally introduced because of concerns about drilling quality, expressed principally by the Department of Transport and the Property Services Agency. The BDA was essentially charged, by those major clients of ground investigation, to produce a driller competence assessment system and ongoing auditing of competence. BDA Driller Accreditation was the result, becoming widely accepted by the geotechnical community and specified in contract documentation.

The same quality concerns exist today. Even more so because of the dependence on obtaining representative samples for more sophisticated laboratory testing, less experienced site supervision because of the skills shortage amongst clients and engineers to meet the volume of work, and commercial pressure. Rubbish in, rubbish out will always apply!

While BDA Driller Accreditation halted any further declines in quality, it had limitations in how far it could go to improve standards. This was partly a funding matter. Contractors were solely being asked to pay fees for their drillers to become accredited in the expectation that their drilling workforce would be employed. The reality was that non BDA Accredited drillers continued to be employed by industry clients. A company will only pay additional to an external body if it believes that a further benefit can be gained.

However the main reasons for moving on from BDA Driller Accreditation were to do with what was happening nationally. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs, and in Scotland , SVQs) were becoming the measure of competence. NVQ assessment, conducted properly, is a far more rigorous and time involvement process. It is a government qualification and far more recognisable than any single industry sector award. The BDA grasped the opportunity in 2001 to develop and introduce NVQ Land Drilling, level 2, for all drilling operatives whatever their drilling discipline or position in the drilling crew. Since then the BDA has worked with ConstructionSkills (formerly CITB) to try and ensure consistency of assessment.

NVQ Land Drilling qualification, while supported by the BDA as a first step, is not sufficient. Any qualification is held for life, but without revisiting cannot be regarded as current competence. The ability to do a job today is not proven because of qualification in the past. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) evidence is required to maintain an individual’s status. The recent introduction of BS EN ISO 22475, part 3, on geotechnical sampling, requires that drilling operatives are audited regularly, post initial assessment – this is a European endorsement that ongoing auditing by an independent agency is required.

There are variations in the quality of NVQ assessment. Despite the BDA being involved it does not have control of the process. The BDA is highly critical that certain individuals may have become NVQ qualified through fast-track procedures, often through no fault of their own but because of lack of awarding body vigilance. This is a specialist industry and certain NVQ Assessors / Centres may not have the necessary experience to assess to the industry’s high standards.

The BDA AUDIT requirements are that any applicant is in possession of NVQ Land Drilling and a valid / current CSCS card (Construction Skills Certification Scheme card). This proves to the BDA that the individual has obtained an NVQ and passed the ConstructionSkills basic Health & Safety Test. An on-site audit is conducted on the individual by a BDA Auditor before Audited status is awarded. This initial audit covers competence, safety and equipment. Should non-conformances be identified they have to be closed off before the issue of a BDA Audited card. The card is the only proof of their status other than enquiry to the BDA office. The process repeats itself every 12 months.

The BDA took a real risk, on behalf of both sides of the industry, some 6 years ago, in deciding that NVQ / CSCS was the way forward and that a new BDA Auditing process would establish itself with the demise of BDA Driller Accreditation. It wasn’t easy giving up a completely in-house process. We do encourage AGS members to adopt this highest proof of drilling operative competence by specifying BDA Audited drilling personnel. Model clauses for insertion into tender documents are suggested below.

  1. All drilling operatives (Lead Drillers and Drillers) employed on the Contract shall hold a valid and current Audit card of competence applicable to the work and specific drilling operation on which they are engaged, as issued by the British Drilling Association Limited under its BDA Audit or an equivalent body in a State of the European Union.
  2. All drilling operatives (Lead Drillers and Drillers) employed on the contract shall hold a valid and current CSCS blue skilled (Land Drilling) card as issued by Construction Skills Certification Scheme Limited or an equivalent body in a State of the European Union.

We can assist with further guidance as to definitions and application of the model clauses.

Brian Stringer, National Secretary, BDA.            Tel: 01327 264622

Email:                  Fax: 01327 264623