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What constitutes acceptable welder qualification?

   

Welder and welding procedure approval and certification have caused much debate over many years. There are several national and international Standards in existence that cover this activity (e.g. ISO, EN, ASME and AWS) but the main source of confusion centres on the body (or person) that is responsible for witnessing the testing and issuing of any resulting certificates.

The European Standard EN 287 Part 1 Steels and the international standard ISO 9606 Part 2 Aluminium refer to an 'Examiner or Examining Body'. These are defined both in EN 287 and EN ISO 9606 as follows:

  • Examiner is defined as 'a person who has been appointed to verify compliance with the applicable standard'.
  • Examining Body is defined as 'an organisation that has been appointed to verify compliance with the applicable standard'.

Both definitions contain a note advising that in certain cases an independent examiner/examining body can be required, although there is nothing within these specifications that would prevent a manufacturer appointing an employee as the Examiner.

The problem for the fabricator is that not all persons or organisations performing this role may be accepted by the purchaser, by any third party involved in a contract or by a court of law in the case of litigation.

The role of the 'Examiner/Examining Body' in the UK is often undertaken by the Verifying Authority or Inspection Authority appointed for a particular contract. In the offshore industry it is generally the Verifying Authority which carries out welding procedure and welder qualification tests, since they have responsibility for certifying the plant/installation.

A similar philosophy applies in the pressure vessel field where the Inspection Authority certifying the vessel ensures that the welding qualification tests have been carried out to specification. Since welding is one of the most important processes in manufacturing a vessel this responsibility must be taken very seriously.

The approach of a number of Inspection Authorities is therefore to only accept certification issued by those bodies authorised/notified in the UK for relevant EU Directives. This ensures that such bodies have quality management systems/technical competence in the appropriate technology and offers protection against professional indemnity claims.

The Pressure Equipment Regulations require that for certain categories of pressure equipment welders and welding procedures must be approved by a competent third party, which, at the manufacturer's discretion may be:

  • a notified body
  • a recognised third party organisation

In the structural steelwork area there are no hard and fast guidelines known at present and acceptability is usually determined by contracting parties.

Where the manufacturer is to affix an ASME stamp to a component, ASME permits the manufacturer to qualify welders in his employ but requires all of the documentation to be available for audit by the manufacturers ASME appointed Authorised Inspector. It should be remembered that ASME does not formally recognise "ASME intent" and thus the question of who is authorised does not arise.

In order to minimise the possibility of problems with acceptability of certification in this area, manufacturers should check the contract at the enquiry/order stage and contact the client to establish the acceptability of existing certificates. If existing certificates are not acceptable, or further certificates are required, it would be advisable to confirm that any new qualifications tests and certificates will be acceptable before proceeding.

The use of a widely recognised Examiner/Examining Body may initially be more expensive than using a smaller, less well known, body but it may be more cost effective in the long run.

Summary

There is no simple answer to who can issue universally acceptable welding qualification test certification. Welding qualifications cover such a wide spectrum of industry - which is bound by different legislation, Standards and practices - that a specific answer cannot be given. In addition, the definition of Examiner/Examining Body is that person/organisation acceptable to the contracting parties. The best advice that can be given to fabricators is to use an Examiner/Examining Body that will be widely accepted by users/third parties in the industry in which the fabricator operates.

Organisations that are recognised by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) as UK Conformity Assessment Bodies for assessing compliance with the Pressure Equipment Directive may be found on the BERR website.

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