by Ian Campbell
TransCanada Pipeline’s government audit highlights importance of welding
Welding is one of those industries that is seldom seen, often forgotten, and generally invisible to the public –until something happens to shine some light on it. The recent news about TransCanada Pipeline’s upcoming Federal Government audit is one such event.
Reading over the announcement, it would seem that welding, and the oversight around it, has suddenly become an issue. From the perspective of the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB), Canada’s only national welding certification and administration organization, welding is a process that should always be at the forefront of an organization’s attention with regards to their fabrication controls to ensure that it is done correctly the first time.
The fact is that for more than 65 years a large portion of welding projects in Canada have been undertaken by CWB Certified companies who have to demonstrate their welding and inspection capabilities to a long established Canadian welding standard. Under this standard all certified companies are audited, their welders are tested and qualified, and supervisors (as well as inspectors) are trained to identify quality issues before they become a problem. At a minimum, this process happens every six months for each and every CWB certified company. Keep in mind–CWB is mandated to administer a national welding standard, so that all certified CWB companies, as well as their welders and inspectors, are held to a common standard, regardless of their industry or location. It is a system that works because if they fail the certification process, they don’t get to do the work. The reason we do this is to help ensure the safety of the general public; a strong national standard combined with consistent application and oversight means that our infrastructure is well-made and safe.
This certification model was first rolled out by CSA in the 1940’s and since then it has been adopted into the Canadian Building Code as well as many product specific standards. Interestingly, pipeline, as well as pressure vessel work, are some of the few areas of welding which are not covered under CWB’s mandate. This is not to say the CWB has not supported those industries, we have always had both pressure and pipeline code endorsement options for people challenging CWB’s inspectors exams, and recently we have added several new services specific to these industries. For example the CWB’s Z662 Procedure Registry program addresses a known need in what is an industry adopted standard, by providing some additional oversight in what is otherwise a mostly self-policed welding procedure review process. This is a good example of how a national body, providing industry oversight, can deliver value not only to the companies they certify, but also to the Canadian public at large.
There are companies that view such certification and independent oversight as a bad thing; something that will somehow erode their ability to “do business.” In CWB’s 65 years of existence it is hard to find an example where a national certification scheme has actually impeded the overall industry sectors that it serves. In fact, the case could be made for the direct opposite. Through CWB certification, companies have the ability to prove to their clients that they have the skills and properly trained personnel to carry out work to a national standard. As a result, customers can demand CWB certification and have a uniform benchmark for evaluating suppliers. In addition, all companies supplying to the Canadian market are held to the same requirements–so whether it’s from Saskatoon or Shanghai, CWB is there. Further, since CWB certification is tied to an ongoing audit process for both welding processes and welders, it provides an ongoing picture of the capabilities of a supplier, not simply a one-time picture, which may not accurately reflect current realities. As an aside, recent work with our insurance partner company (HUB International) has shown that some policy carriers are willing to view CWB certification as mitigating risk factor, leading to a possible reduction in insurance rates. This is good for CWB certified companies, but also good for the industry as it points to the acceptance of the concept of national certification as a measurable way to reduce risk.
No welding is without risk, but some do have higher risk profiles. Failures in structures and bridges could cause loss of life, while a failed weld on a chair is more of an inconvenience. That said, there is no reason the chair manufacturer cannot adopt the same standards as the structural welding companies, and as a result improve the overall quality and safety of the product they deliver. The big question is why there is critical welding going on that is not handled to a national standard, for the safety of the people it serves and the protection of the environment it runs through. There are some products that fall outside of a nationally administered welding standard, yet they all pose a potentially serious hazard should the quality of their welding (and the oversight and inspection provided during construction) prove to be anything less than “air tight.”
In Canada we have the luxury of having a long established system to do just that, we just need to apply it uniformly across all critical industrial sectors. Applying this concept to all products that pose a serious risk to the public, at a basic level, would provide the uniformity of testing and certification found within other sectors involved in welding, bringing all related welding companies up to a common qualifiable level. It would remove the need for duplication, saving both taxpayers and businesses money while speeding up approvals. The approvals aspect is worth exploring.
For welding, it’s hard to argue that CWB is not the right choice. CWB brings 65 years of doing just one thing–welding certification. It also has the added benefit that the work the CWB does is taxpayer neutral, yet provides a real benefit to all Canadians in terms of maintaining their safety.
As we await the outcome of the TransCanada audit, all of us need to remember the importance of welding and the benefits that are provided from a national certification system. SMT
Ian Campbell is director of marketing and product development for CWB Group, Milton, ON.