SOPECC – The History of Standardization of Power Engineers in Canada

This is an article written by Mr. Raymond E. Kolbuch one of our consultants and which was originally published in the 1995 winter issue of Canadian Power Engineer magazine. This article was updated in 2006.

Pioneers of Tomorrow

By: Mr. Raymond E. Kolbuch – Chair SOPEEC

Ray is the holder of a First Class Power Engineers Certificate. He served for many years as the Power Engineer Examiner with the Manitoba Department of Labor, Mechanical and Engineering Branch.

Ray served as a member of SOPEEC (Standardization of Power Engineers Examination Committee) since 1985 and served as Chairman of SOPEEC for many years since June, 1994. Ray represented SOPEEC at the Association of Chief Inspectors of Canada meetings as an Associate of the ACI.

Power Engineers are mandated by legislation not only for licensing of the operator, but similarly connected by legislation as to the Boilers that the Power Engineer operates.

In the early 1900’s, most provinces enacted the Steam Engineers Act and the Steam Boiler Inspection Act. Since governments began writing and enforcing regulations; there has always been legislation covering both operation and inspection of Boilers. Pioneers in this industry fired boilers with wood or coal. The addition of water or fuel was always done manually by the operator.

Early Boilers construction did not adhere to any code, nor was the quality and efficiency of the unit being built considered. Welding of Boilers was unheard of as all that was available to early Boiler manufacturers was a process known as riveting. As automatic controls were not yet available, many a Boiler succumbed to human error that was design related or operator related with catastrophic results. It was due to these many catastrophes and fatalities that caused the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) to establish a set of rules for Boiler design and fabrication. This was in 1911. The first Boiler Code was published in 1914. This code was created by individuals from varying backgrounds. This original code was not a legal document, but could be made a legal document if adopted into existing or newly created legislation by a province.

Manufacturers now had a set of guidelines to meet with this new requirement to build safe boilers. Then it became a necessity to have qualified personnel to operate these Boilers: It would seem redundant to build a safe boiler only to have its operation monitored by an unqualified person. In some instances, early legislation mandated that there be two qualified personnel, one to “operate” and one to fire the unit.

In Canada, the government went one step further to enact legislation not only for the operator, but also legislation for the design, fabrication, construction, and Inspection of Boilers.

Codes, Acts, and Regulation came under severe changes during the years that followed. The onset of larger and more dangerous Boilers being manufactured brought on a new need for controls and control of fuel firing. New methods of firing these boilers utilizing fuel that could be more readily controlled were introduced. This was the new era of gas burners, bunker oil and light oils.
As technology advanced, new controls, both electrical and pneumatic were being developed so rapidly that today a qualified operator can operate a complex plant from one location through a computer system.

It was not too long ago that this industry realized that we had to train all Engineers to set standards. A uniform training program had to be developed to uniformly upgrade all Engineers to a better understanding of this new technology. Employers looked up to plant engineers to solve other manufacturing problems that were directly related to the boiler system.

As most Engineers are looking for new challenges and opportunities for advancement, they move to different regions of Canada . As each region of Canada offers a new challenge, problems do occur. These problems which are not congruent to all provinces occur only in special industries.

With special industries come special problems. The duties of a Power Engineer in mining regions may differ from the duties in a pulp and paper region. This in turn places a further demand on the Engineer to be a well informed job candidate.

In the early 70’s, an eager group of individuals headed by Jim Robertson of Alberta Boilers Branch headed out across Canada in an attempt to “Standardize” the exams and curriculum for Power Engineers. This effort was restricted to Canada only as the USA does not have uniform regulations for the certification of personnel who operate Boilers. The USA does however insist on a strong policy for Boiler manufacturers but not necessarily for Boiler operators.

In Canada , most provinces had a level of certification of Power Engineers, namely Fourth to First Class, with the latter being the highest obtainable certificate. This aided in the instruction required to be balanced to the responsibility given to the level of certificate that a person was to attain.

The proposed standardized meetings started in 1972. All Canadians jurisdictions were to amalgamate, bringing along all their own Regulations. No jurisdictions wanted to concede anything related to the Regulations. The three Prairie Provinces namely, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were the first to set up a standardized agreement. At that time a unanimous decision was made by all three Prairie Provinces to go with Alberta’s standard of syllabi for the first year. It was noted at that time the biggest obstacle was experience requirements needed to write a certain class of exam. Alberta had to “give” the most, as theirs was the most stringent. Manitoba in turn had to increase the experience requirements. Saskatchewan made no change as they were found to be “in line” with the new standards.

In the two days of meetings in Regina 1972, there was more progress made than any other Standardization meeting ever held. It was resolved at that meeting that standardization of examinations would not work unless all parties had Standardization of Training. All the jurisdictions met in Calgary the following year. It was at this meeting in Calgary that British Columbia joined the existing prairie provinces

The next step was to devise a program that would suit all of Canada. Dave Flockhart and Jim Robertson traveled to a meeting in the Atlantic Provinces in November 1973. It was at this meeting that the four Atlantic provinces joined the standardized program.
Reciprocal Standardized Certificates are issued only where the applicant has written standardized examinations in another SOPEEC jurisdiction.

An Engineer that transfers into a province that is currently using a Standardized exam will: Apply for a certificate to operate in that Province, be issued a reciprocal Standardized Certificate of that same class if his/her Certificate has a Standardized Seal affixed to it or, be issued a reciprocal provincial certificate of the same class that is “not standardized”. The applicant may then choose to write the standardized exams, a Standardized Seal would then be affixed to the previously “provincial” certificate. This certificate would now be valid in all SOPEEC jurisdictions.

*Please note that some provinces may issue a Certificate of one Class lower in exchange for a non standardized certificate.

The SOPEEC jurisdictions however prefer that the applicant resides in that jurisdiction before writing Standardized examinations. Examination will not be sent out of province. This eases the invigilation and thus the security of Standardized examinations in Canada.
It is evident that today in the 90’s, the Power Engineer does not take back seat to anyone. They are connected with every walk of life in some shape or form. From the heating of hospitals, airports, shopping malls, and office buildings to the manufacturing and construction industries, to the clothes that we wear, Power Engineers are involved. The manufacturers of cleaners, soaps and even the food prepared in large food processing plants is directly connected to a Power Engineer.

The Power Engineer of today can keep up with all the new technology with little difficulty. The training programs now are more high tech than ten years ago and will double in the next then years. I can personally say that all Power Engineers across Canada have shown true “pride in workmanship” attitude that is second to none.

The challenges of computers in the future will not differ from the challenges that our Pioneers felt when they went from a manually fired wood boiler to an automatically fired gas or oil fired boiler. Do not forget the Pioneers of yesterday. Do not forget how hard they worked to develop what is an excellent profession today. We are today the Pioneers of Tomorrow. Was there ever a challenge set up that Power Engineers could not meet?

Update in November 2006

In April 1973, Northwest Territories and Yukon joined the standardized program.

The first annual meeting of SOPEEC was held in Newfoundland in 1975.

After sending representatives to the SOPEEC meetings for several years, the province of Ontario officially joined SOPEEC on August 18, 1997.

Nunavut became a new Territory and applied for membership in SOPEEC. Nunavut officially joined SOPEEC on August 14, 2000. The province of Quebec sent a representative to attend the SOPEEC meeting in 2005. On May 31, 2006, Quebec submitted a formal application to join SOPEEC. Quebec’s application was welcomed by all SOPEEC members. Quebec was approved as a SOPEEC member on August 7, 2006, by the Association of Chief Inspectors. Finally Canada is united in Standardization of Power Engineer Examinations.

The following is the date for each jurisdiction joining the standardized program:

  • Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta – January 1, 1972
  • British Columbia – March 1, 1973
  • Northwest Territories and Newfoundland – April 11, 1973
  • Yukon – April 25, 1973
  • New Brunswick – December 27, 1973
  • Nova Scotia – January 17, 1974
  • Prince Edward Island – January 21, 1976
  • Ontario (TSSA) – August 18, 1997
  • Nunavut – August 17, 2000
  • Quebec – August 7, 2006

Despite the many years of efforts and dedication by so many power engineers participating in the SOPEEC meetings and deliberations, standardization is still no closer than it was 25 years ago. The jurisdictions have not been able to convince the regulators to act accordingly and many of the proposals and work done at the SOPEEC meetings goes wasted by inactivity and lack of knowledge by those in the government positions that could enable the changes necessary to create a truly standardized program.

The examination program is starting to show cracks in it’s armour with most jurisdictions abandoning the “non-compromising” system of LXR-Testing in favour of the old “print and pass” on to the candidates old school program. Thus the validity of certificates are in question once again. The rules that tie the Standardization program are constantly compromised or not adhered to by nearly all jurisdictions, such as having examinations invigilated by non-power engineers, candidates given different rules in different jurisdictions, examiners not following the marking process as prescribed by SOPEEC and jurisdictions making up their own rules with respect to calculators permitted, code books permitted and many other more serious issues such as examinations being marked by non-regulatory staff and in some cases instructors of colleges in the same jurisdiction.