Avoiding disciplinary action through non-compliance

Avoiding disciplinary action through non-compliance

By SAQCC Gas

This article, based on a SAQCC Gas webinar hosted by Roy Lubbe, focuses on achieving compliance through the best refrigerant practices of the practitioner within the regulatory standards framework and disciplinary framework.

This information is made available purely to offer refrigeration practitioners awareness of the rules and regulations surrounding disciplinary action, should one do work which is substandard and out of regulation.

You must always ask yourself, are there persons who are not registered and working illegally; are there people working outside of their scope of competence; are there practitioners who are registered but don't conform to the Health and Safety standards, and of course, the Pressure Equipment Regulations. It is fairly common to come across people that are doing the wrong thing.

The other points to consider, are whether these refrigeration practitioners working in the industry are doing a disservice and an injustice to your profession and your brand as a business through inferior workmanship. If negotiating on safety is acceptable and if having a system installation which is 80% compliant - what happens to the 20% that doesn't comply. How does this look when you are wearing your safety compliance hat?

Addressing non-conforming processes

The mandate of SAQCC Gas is to remedy non-conformity and when a practitioner does not want to be counselled or guided, or even follow corrective measures, then it becomes necessary to revert to the disciplinary process. Being a registered and Authorised Refrigerant Gas Practitioner is a professional competence. SAQCC Gas’ role in the refrigeration sector is upliftment of competence – the same as the other three Gas Associations where the objective is fulfilment of the Department of Employment and Labour's mandate to regulate the use of various gases.

The mandated perspective of SAQCC Gas is that of doing things right and protecting the four gas associations, ensuring safe practices are followed and maintained at all times. This requires a mechanism of remedy of poor behaviour and workmanship through the promotion of good conduct.

It is unfortunate that many people don't want to follow standards and regulations, more so if people don’t want to improve and upgrade their skills. It doesn't help that the particular transgressing individual wants to remain in the gas industry without compliance. SAQCC must protect its commitment to the mandate and credibility as a registration body. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Refrigerant gas practitioners who work with refrigeration appliances, air conditioning units or commercial refrigeration equipment are directly involved with the SANS 10147 for refrigeration, the legislative framework of the Occupational Health and Act (OHS), and the Pressure Equipment Regulations (PER). The specific protocols like the Montreal protocol and its amendments, govern Ozone depletion and global warming. These are therefore some of the requirements of both adherence and compliance.

Central to all these factors is safety, but adding to this is education of the people working in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry-sector. We need to make sure that the refrigeration appliances, air conditioning units, commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment are of a good quality and operate safely at all times. There needs to be an understanding framework to ensure safety can be achieved and maintained, or, if a practitioner is found to be non-compliant this becomes a concern to the industry and SAQCC Gas.

Looking at governing rules

As already mentioned, there is the mandate from the Department of Employment and Labour regarding the compliance with the OHS Act and PER. There are then codes of good practice and a code of conduct signed by every registered practitioner, the disciplinary process structure, and the disciplinary process itself. These are rules governing practitioners that covers behaviour, compliance, safety and discipline.

The Pressure Equipment Regulations, in this case regulation 17, is the origin of the mandate from the Department of Employment and Labour, and the establishment of the practitioner register database of authorised persons – as competent within their scope of work, and therefore cannot be ignored, nor any other regulation in the PER.

From a structural point of view, the Department of Employment and Labour has mandated (SAQCC Gas) as the registration body. SAQCC Gas maintains the registration database in association with all four gas associations that cover all the gas types in the country. The four gas associations form the board of SAQCC Gas in accordance with the mandate from the Department of Employment and Labour.

Approaches to the disciplinary process

Discipline is directly related to the type, nature and severity of the offence. Any one of the gas associations can discipline their own gas practitioners within their sector of the gas industries.

Any one of the gas associations can implement sanctions that can be remedial (or a warning can be issued for a first, second or third offence). Alternatively, the offence can be escalated to SAQCC Gas with the same approach, however the SAQCC Gas is the only body that has the ability to de-registered a gas practitioner. An association cannot perform de-registration as they have no mandate for this action. In cases of serious offence, the matter can be escalated directly to the SAQCC Gas, bypassing the association.

There are differing areas of responsibility that fall into two pillars. One being that registered practitioners are the responsibility of SAQCC Gas, while non-registered practitioners are the responsibility of Department of Employment and Labour. The distinction comes about because SAQCC Gas only registers competent persons, giving them licenses to work in the gas environment.

Should a registered practitioner come across a person who is not registered, they have an obligation and the right to report such persons to the Department should they contravene any rules. It is however advisable and proactive, if a non-registered person is seen to contravene any element – to offer remedial action as a first measure through showing the person best practice and conduct. Should they then choose to ignore advice and guidance the matter can be referred to SAQCC Gas.

The code of conduct, which has been mentioned before, is broken up further into:

  • very serious misconduct offenses
  • serious misconduct offenses, and
  • deregistration sanctions

It is highly important to understand the various offences. Very serious misconduct includes fraud, dishonesty, and attempts to misrepresent facts on behalf of self or others including actual or attempted bribery. These offences speak for themselves; this is bad practice and is not acceptable in the refrigeration industry, and the SAQCC Gas won't allow this.

Very serious misconduct further includes failure to observe client safety procedures - for example, you can be working on site and not adhere to that company's policies, or the misconduct in not going through the necessary safety protocols and briefing sessions. Others include falsification of any documentation, being found in possession of or under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. Another offence is working outside of the license and registration scope as its extremely dangerous, and failure in one or more of the agreed codes of conduct.

The lesser, serious misconduct offenses include the norm or failure to carry out safe work procedures or observe safety requirements in a situation, failure to notify the responsible person of an unsafe situation be it dangerous or hazardous behaviour that can result in harm or death to oneself or others, negligence or carelessness, misrepresenting facts or non-disclosure, disclosure of confidential or sensitive information, poor workmanship, and malicious damage to customer property.

Looking then at the codes of good practice, the important points to highlight are that the practitioner will only take on those assignments which fall within their authorized level of competence and registration, and scope of work nor on another gas which is outside of their scope.

Prior to taking on any work, a practitioner must also establish who the owner is of the equipment because some companies rent the equipment. Next, another very critical element is the signature of documentation that can only be declared on work that the practitioner has personally carried out, or what has been caried out with supervision over with personal knowledge through direct technical control or supervision. This is a particular area of transgression.

An example, you can’t get to a project in Durban, you stay in Joburg but send your own team, there they do their job but you are the gas practitioner who signs off the team’s work as competent people and you declare you that you have been directly involved and you sign the CoC from where you are but this cannot be done as you have no level of supervision or technical knowledge of the actual work undertaken.

The next in the code of good practice is to continue to update your skills and maintain proficiency and your own profile. Another is to maintain the highest degree of personal integrity, credibility and business ethics at all times. An infamous clause is the reporting of unsafe or sub-standard practices. Don’t just walk past, practitioners need to protect their own environment and may become guilty by association.

A further important element to note as part of the codes of good practice is to avoid engagement in any anti-trust behaviour that include matters of competitive nature or pricing – including any act that can be considered as collusion.

Typical errors by defaulters

  • Blank signed CoCs – Going on holiday for two weeks, signing five and give it to staff
  • Blank signed pressure test certificates
  • No, or insufficient supervision
  • Poor workmanship – safety compromise
  • Incorrect pressure testing
  • Use of substandard or poorer quality equipment
  • Modifying an appliance or equipment to fit another purpose
  • Working outside the scope of registration
  • Non-conformity to various aspects or OHS act, PER and safety regulations
  • No equipment/appliance permits
  • ‘Taking chances’

Role-players and disciplinary process

  • Chairperson – This is someone who must be impartial and unbiased
  • Initiator
  • Defendant
  • Witnesses
  • Gas Practitioner Representative(s)
  • DEL – can be included in an appeal process)

The detail around the disciplinary process is available from the SAQCC Gas but includes  investigation around all of the facts which determines the severity, the disciplinary committee is informed, charges are frames, notice of disciplinary hearing is issued to the defaulter, impartial chairperson is appointed, hearing takes place with the cases being put forward and cross referencing, chairperson may ask questions to clarify statements whereafter evidence is considered, a guilty or not guilty decision is informed, advise on the sanction is delivered to the SAQCC Gas and defendant, and finally an appeal can be lodged if required at the DEL.

SAQCC Gas has recently formulated de-registration sanction guidelines and it is important to understand these. In the past a practitioner would just be de-registered. That approach was changed, and now there are three levels of sanctioning.

The first sanction is to be de-registered for one year, then be under mentorship. The action to this sanction is to provide your license and CoC book to SAQCC Gas and after completion of one year mentorship, to re-apply to SAQCC Gas for re-registration.

The next sanction is to work under mentorship for a fixed period as agreed by the association to fulfil agreed requirements such as upskilling, whereafter re-application can be made to SAQCC Gas.

The last and most severe sanction is when a practitioner gets de-registered for life. Actions to this will require return of license and CoC book to SAQCC Gas indefinitely.

This framework that was re-formulated (approximately two years ago) is now considered a much better version that the prior, with only de-registration for life as an option. Better remedial actions are now possible.

When considering the hearings that have taken place historically, the main fact to note is a final warning will be against the practitioner like a sword, so they cannot repeat the same offense in the stipulated period. If they do, this can be considered as further aggravating circumstances.

Conclusion

When considering all the factors mentioned in this article, the practitioner’s business is in the middle. The whole compliance framework builds around the business and these statutory and regulatory requirements, quality and environmental requirements, and the safety and health environment require the businesses adherence. Each other element of a business – people, systems and processes play a role in a compliant interrelationship with the framework and tie into the factors in the external disciplinary processes.

Today there are a lot of areas in business one needs to be compliant with, not only from SAQCC Gas but other regulatory bodies as well. Make sure you understand all the compliance frameworks.


 

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