Caroline Hand looks at the changing requirements for technical competence in the waste industry, an issue which is of significance both to waste professionals and those who rely on its services.

Questions

  • When should you use a 99 code on a consignment of hazardous waste?

  • What should you do with your environmental permit if your business moves to a larger site?

  • What colour is the cover of a foul water drain?

These are the kinds of questions that England’s waste managers need to answer correctly if they are to continue in their role. Every two years, waste managers must take and pass the Continuing Competence test set by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board (WAMITAB). Alternatively, the waste management organisation must have in place a certified Competence Management System (CMS) under which staff are continually assessed.

The new duty to report on competence

As of 7 April 2019, waste permit holders have a statutory duty to report their method of competence in their quarterly returns to the Environment Agency (EA). The aim of this new requirement is to raise standards in the waste industry by ensuring that all waste facilities are operated by trained, competent managers. This duty was introduced by the Environmental Permitting (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018 (SI 2018 No. 1227).

If an operator relies on a WAMITAB-certified Technically Competent Manager (TCM) for competence cover, they will have to list their competent person on a public register. This will clearly show up where sites either have no cover or rely on a person being used by many other sites. CMS is different in that it applies technical competence to the site as a whole.

Background to technical competence

The requirement for technically competent waste managers was first introduced through the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994, which still apply in Scotland. In order to obtain a licence and operate legitimately, waste facilities had to ensure that a technically competent person was on site for at least some of the time. The only way to demonstrate technical competence was by obtaining WAMITAB’s Certificate of Technical Competence (CoTC), awarded to those who had obtained National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) appropriate to the specific waste operation. For those in full-time employment, studying for a CoTC could take a considerable length of time so a two-year period of grace was allowed after the grant of a permit.

However, the CoTC requirement only applied to new starters in the industry or those moving to different posts. Established waste managers were “deemed competent” and did not have to obtain any qualifications unless they changed jobs. Furthermore, a number of managers were assumed to be technically competent on the basis of an assessment by the EA rather than through the CoTC.

Benefits and limitations

No one has questioned the benefits of a formal requirement for technical competence. Technically competent management has, according to the waste industry trade association Environmental Services Association (ESA):

  • improved control of environmental risk, particularly that posed by small operators

  • improved management standards

  • contributed to public confidence in the industry and its regulation

  • established minimum standards that apply to all permitted sites

  • provided a predictable and transferable qualification

  • clearly identified accountability for site operations.

Nevertheless, managers in the waste industry wanted a more flexible and less prescriptive approach to demonstrating competence and their comments were taken into account when the Environmental Permitting regime replaced waste management licensing.

Developments in technical competence

The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations (EPR), while retaining the requirement for competence, no longer specified the CoTC as the only means of demonstrating competence. In response to the Agency’s invitation, the waste industry developed two new schemes. The first, run by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and WAMITAB, which developed out of the old CoTC system, was approved in December 2008; the second, devised by the ESA and EU (Energy & Utilities) Skills, began in July 2009.

Under the revised WAMITAB scheme, the number of study units required, and stringency of the tests, is dependent on the risk level of the facility. Within this framework, waste managers can choose the type of assessment that suits their learning style. For some, this will be an NVQ based on workplace assessment, while those who prefer the “teach and test” approach can obtain the nationally recognised Vocationally Related Qualification (VRQ). Operators at low-risk facilities, such as WEEE storage depots, have the option of taking the simpler Environmental Permit Operator’s Certificate (EPOC).

The ESA CMS is substantially different from the WAMITAB one, being based on a management system rather than the passing of tests and assessments.

EPR requirements

Once the EPR came into force, the technical competence requirement was extended to managers of facilities, such as the larger scrap metal recycling sites, that were exempt from licensing under the old system but require a full environmental permit under the EPR. However, those who were technically competent under the old system remain technically competent under the EPR, provided they demonstrate continuing competence.

The 2012 requirement for continuing competence

The waste sector is continually evolving as new technologies become available. The market makes new demands and legislation develops in line with national and EU environmental policy. Today’s waste industry, with its focus on resource efficiency and recovery, is very different from the landfill-dominated waste sector of the early 1990s. Both the waste industry and the EA recognised that waste managers need to keep up to date with these changes so in 2012 they introduced a Continuing Competence requirement, similar to Continuing Professional Development in other industries.

Even those whose technical competence had been carried over from the previous regime were required to demonstrate their continuing competence, either through continual assessment as part of the CMS or by passing WAMITAB’s Continuing Competence test.

The WAMITAB test

The test only takes half an hour and can be taken at many centres across the UK. Bookings can be made through WAMITAB. While those new to waste management will need to study the syllabus and prepare thoroughly, experienced waste managers will not find the questions too challenging. Everyone takes a 20-question multiple choice test covering basic environmental and health and safety legislation (similar to the questions at the beginning of this article), then individuals choose one or more sector-specific topics dependent on their own waste operations. Anyone who is unsuccessful on their first attempt can take as many tests as they need to pass.

The Continuing Competence test must be taken every two years, and WAMITAB will update the syllabus to reflect changes to the industry and legislation in the intervening period.

The CMS route

While the CMS approach does not carry the daunting prospect of a compulsory formal exam, according to the ESA, it is “not a soft option” and appears to involve more paperwork and management time for companies who choose this route. However, it is favoured by larger operators who find that implementation of the CMS can lead to higher standards of management, business benefits and career development for their staff.

The CMS is similar in concept to other management systems, including environmental management systems under ISO 14001. Each operator must prepare, implement and maintain a CMS that meets a new industry standard. The operator will be accredited by an Accredited Certification Body which in turn is overseen by UKAS. CMS is a more holistic approach than the WAMITAB scheme, looking at the company as a whole rather than individual competence, but there is still a need for individual managers to acquire knowledge and skills. For this reason, an operator with a CMS may still rely on the WAMITAB qualifications and tests in order to demonstrate individual competence.

Further information

Detailed information on the two systems of technical competence can be found on the following websites.

Last reviewed 7 May 2019