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Scrap merchants' complaints over competence test rejected

Industry leaders have called for “robust action” against scrap merchants who miss this month’s deadline for competence testing - despite complaints that the tests are unfair and irrelevant.

Following changes in regulations in 2008, all managers of waste facilities with Environment Agency permits must have passed a WAMITAB Continuing Competence test by 29 February 2012.

But some small scrap merchants, who were previously not required to pass competence tests, have insisted the new system is too expensive and too difficult.

One merchant, whose family have 100 years of scrap trade experience between them, told MRW the test was “just money making by the government”.

“We’ve been running the business for 50 years, and if we’re not competent after all this time, I don’t know…” they added.

The merchant, who asked not to be named, said the test included questions on landfill, waste paper and gas. They said there should be a test just on metal, without questions on other wastes.

Another trader, based in Cumbria, said they were concerned because they had never used a computer.

“We’re inspected four or five times a year and audited every two years, so if we weren’t competent someone should have noticed by now. We think it’s just a money making scheme.”

But the British Metals Recycling Association rejected the merchants’ complaints.

Head of environment Howard Bluck said: “Since January 2011, we have repeatedly reminded BMRA members that require an operator competence assessment to make the necessary preparations in good time and not to leave things to the last minute.”

He added that a refresher training course was on offer to help candidates ready themselves for the assessments.

“Despite this, we remain concerned that come 29 February, there will be a significant number of operators across the metals recycling sector who have failed to meet their competence obligations. 

“We believe the Environment Agency must take robust action against them; only a strong enforcement policy will help maintain the credibility of the competence scheme.”

The Chartered Institution for Wastes Management, which runs the test alongside WAMITAB, has estimated that up to 75% of some types of waste facilities may not meet the deadline to have at least one manager qualified.

It said in early January that only 675 tests had been successfully completed, while there were 2,546 permitted metal recycling sites.

A CIWM spokesman said: “If site operators fail to take action by the deadline, the Environment Agency will no longer accept them as technically competent.

“This could result in some sites being unable to operate legally under their permit or having to make special arrangements to show that they are being managed by people who are still technically competent.”

WAMITAB director-general Dr Lawrence Strong firmly rejected accusations the test was unfair. Strong said WAMITAB made provisions for anyone with literacy problems and who may have difficulties using computers.

He said the “generic section” of the test contained questions on legislation, health and safety and environmental protection that were “no more or less than every competent individual should know irrespective of where they come from within the industry”.

He added that there were questions on landfill that metal merchants needed to know when sending waste for disposal.

Strong said the questions on legislation were drawn up with guidance from the Environment Agency, and the questions in the metal-specific section with advice from the BMRA.

He added that anyone could look at sample questions and tutorials online before taking the test, but many operators were not accessing this before taking the test.

However, the pass rate for the first attempt is around 85%.

Strong also rejected accusations of “money making”. He said WAMITAB had worked to keep the costs as low as possible.

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