DOT OQ B31Q Testing and Training Options Now Available at Midwest ENERGY Association

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America's largest DOT training and qualification consortium of pipeline companies, contractors and utilities will soon have a second, complete B31Q compliance option for meeting the employee qualification mandates of the Department of Transportation's Operator Qualification Regulation.

The Florida Natural Gas Association and other companies who need to merge various division plans or update existing plans are opting for the B31Q approach

America's largest DOT training and qualification consortium of pipeline companies, contractors and utilities will soon have a second, complete B31Q compliance option for meeting the employee qualification mandates of the Department of Transportation's Operator Qualification Regulation.

The consortium, organized through Midwest ENERGY Association (MEA), has, since the mid 1990s, had a full spectrum of DOT OQ qualification tools. Included are on-line, self-study, and instructor led learning and testing materials geared specifically to the DOT rule. MEA (http://www.midwestenergy.org) has also provided database software for tracking employee qualifications in house and on line.
The recent completion of the B31Q option and the growing preference for it, has moved MEA to create a complete B31Q series of courses, plus written and hands on evaluations.

"The Florida Natural Gas Association and other companies who need to merge various division plans or update existing plans are opting for the B31Q approach," says Don Szambelan, Chief Learning Officer for MEA.

"MEA does not mandate any specific approach," explains Patrick Van Beek, MEA President. "Both our members and the over 400 other pipeline operators, contractors and utility members of the consortium, do, however, want consistent OQ tools that allow them to stay in compliance with DOT requirements at the lowest possible cost. We feel an obligation to provide tools for either type of plan."

MEA has 70 courses, or about 50% of the 143 non-diving B31Q courses completed already. "We started with the most difficult topics, those that were new because of B31Q. We did not have previous course content to work with, so we did a lot more research and review with our Subject Matter Experts from around the industry," says Szambelan, "We will have the rest finished by the end of 2009."

"Our OQ Steering Committee has already completed a cross reference matrix of the knowledge and skills elements of the existing, non B31Q courses and the new B31Q requirements so customers can easily compare the two options. The Steering Committee has also created a common task list and evaluations for B31Q requirements. There is also a B31Q version of the CERCplus record keeping system that is preloaded with qualifications."

The MEA OQ Steering Committee also believes that B31Q will also enhance the possibility of "portability" which is the acceptance by other operators of workers previously qualified by another reputable operator. It also offers an operator with different plans within various divisions, perhaps due to mergers, the benefit of a neutral plan that all the divisions can use without having to create a win-lose for some divisions. This is one reason that the Florida Natural Gas Association has decided to move to B31Q. Every one of the 16 participating companies can adjust to the new common FNGA B31Q plan.

"The key is still flexibility and customization when it comes to all the parts of a successful OQ program for an operator," says Van Beek, "MEA builds that into all of the OQ learning courses, the written tests and the hands on evaluations. The fact that over 400 companies rely on our materials to qualify tens of thousands employees from Alaska to Florida is proof that our program works. When B31Q came out, we felt we needed to offer all of the tools operators need for that option as well."

Midwest ENERGY Association (MEA) serves the people that bring electricity and natural gas to American homes and businesses. MEA was founded as a training association over 100 years ago by visionary distribution utilities in the Midwest to improve safety and efficiency. Utility companies nationwide now benefit from MEA's industry roundtables, operations conferences, and other events. Members collaborated to develop EnergyU, the world's premier online training and testing system for the gas and electric utility distribution industry. Our not-for-profit fee structure delivers to members and subscribers the best possible training at the lowest possible cost in the areas of natural gas, liquids, OSHA, electric, and leadership training.

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