What is the Operator Qualification Rule (OQ Rule)?
In August 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) promulgated new regulatory requirements as part of 49 CFR §192 and §195, which have become known throughout the pipeline industry as the Operator Qualification (OQ) Rule. Specifically, DOT requires pipeline operators to do several things in order to meet the objectives of the rule:
Pipeline operators must determine “covered tasks” for which personnel must be qualified (DOT has prescribed a four-part test to assist in making such determinations). Pipeline operators must identify abnormal operating conditions and must ensure that qualified individuals can recognize them and react appropriately. Pipeline operators must implement process for evaluating personnel qualification that is objective, consistent, and documented.
Pipeline operators must develop and follow a written qualification program. Pipeline operators must maintain records necessary for documenting compliance with the rule. The OQ rule requires pipeline operators to meet these requirements as they relate to their own employees. The rule also makes pipeline operators responsible for ensuring the qualification of contractors, subcontractors, or any other entity performing a covered task on their respective pipeline facilities.
The rule does not replace any of the requirements of 49 CFR §192 and §195. Everyone must still comply with those regulatory requirements as always. The OQ rule is intended to provide an additional level of safety by reducing the risks of accidents on pipeline facilities caused by human error.
Each operator is required to have a written OQ plan that outlines all of the requirements that its employee and contractors must meet in order to comply with the rule. The OQ plan describes, in detail, the requirements that contractors, their employers, and subcontractors must meet before they can perform covered tasks on the operator’s pipeline facilities.
Does the OQ Rule apply to me?
If you perform a covered task defined by your operator client, then you must be deemed qualified on that task or tasks. You may review the covered task lists to see if any of the tasks apply to you.
Changes to the OQ Rule are anticipated. In July 2015, the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) outlining a number of recommended amendments to the OQ Rule.