HSE personnel often get asked “are you ready” for commissioning? Sometimes they even have real input, but most of the time we are just a body that is required to be there. The international Association of Commissioning Engineers (IACE) definition for commissioning is as follows:

Commissioning is the disciplined and systematic process of assuring that all sub-systems, systems and components of a constructed unit are designed, installed, tested and operated in conformance with the design intent, functional intent, and operational requirements of the owner.

Whilst the commissioning process includes (IACE):

  • the proof testing of design intent using static check-sheets,
  • dynamic check-sheets and commissioning procedures to ensure compliance with design drawings,
  • data sheets and specifications in order to achieve a smooth and safe transition from an inert state to a completely tested, clean, leak tight, operable and safe unit, in readiness for start-up and performance testing.

It is the safe transition part that should prick-up the HSE Practitioners ears. This is not taught in your SAMTRAC, NEBOSH, Diploma, BSc Degree, but is learned out in the field with the commissioning engineers. As the definition above implies, energy is introduced into a system or sub-system. It is this area that is most important for the HSE Practitioner.

In the Built Environment, the role of the Commissioning Engineer is to ensure that all aspects of a building or construction project are properly designed, installed, tested and maintained. They perform troubleshooting tasks, monitor progress, perform tests, conduct audits, assist in financial improvements, write reports and assist clients.

Commissioning Engineering is often seen as a sub-set of Systems Engineering, with major overlaps with Safety Engineering and Design Risk  Engineering. It is also similar to Project Commissioning as a function.

As there is no definition for HSE Commissioning, I have provided one:

“HSE Commissioning is the anticipation and identification of potential energy releases that could injure personnel, the community or the environment, to eliminate or limit the energy to such an extent that, catastrophic or major events do not have a significant impact on the installation, people or the environment. This is achieved by introducing sufficient control measures prior to actual commissioning”.(Shane Lishman 2018)

HSE Commissioning is slowly becoming known around the world and is not yet a separate discipline such as Commissioning Engineers, however organisations such as IACE recognised the important part that H&S input. In South Africa we are slowly realising the important role that we must play in the commissioning process. The numerous areas that we have a vital role to play, not only drawing up a Pre-Commissioning HSE Plan, or HSE Commissioning Plan. Our supporting role to the Commissioning Engineers requires for us to step outside our area of comfort. The area of comfort to which I refer is that of the traditional H&S Professional to that of entering to some extent into the area of engineering. We should start understanding that commissioning is bringing the physical components, how they work, how they fit into a sub-system, and how they fit into the system which will ultimately be productive and producing whatever it has been designed to do.

The basic concepts of energy are very important when one speaks of HSE Commissioning. Commissioning is a process of taking a pump, motor, system, sub-system from a state of zero potential to being energised. It is this area of health, safety and the environment that is fundamental to HSE Commissioning. The released of such energy if uncontrolled is what kills.

Therefore, the interface between people / environment is followed by damage to the structure / plant / building etc. which is of utmost concern to the HSE Commissioning Manager / HSE commissioning personnel at the time of commissioning.

The Role and function of the HSE Commissioning Engineer

Broadly speaking the role of the HSE Commissioning Engineer is to:

  • Manage safe commissioning of the project by Coordinating between the company and the Contractor.
  • Supervise and approve commissioning plans in accordance with project guidelines and a baseline Risk assessment,
  • Review designs with a view to Safe working procedures during commissioning and supervise onsite commissioning activities.
  • Prepare and maintain commission records of site safety observations, testing processes and checklists .
  • Outline safe work procedures, norms and details for writing the Systems Manual.
  • Monitor installation, submittals and usage of engineering tools adhering to project and commissioning guidelines.
  • Guide testing processes and motivate specialists to achieve standard results.
  • Assist with identification and redressal of commissioning and malfunction issues.
  • Track and review progress through meetings.
  • Evaluate contractual commissioning statistics and instruction guidelines in accordance with the needs of the project.
  • Compile commission report data for summarizing.
  • Assist in summarizing and updating commission records.
  • Schedule and supervise operational reviews in association with functional staff.
  • Create an empowering and inspiring work culture with the commissioning team.
  • Attain customer satisfaction through adhering to owner guidelines with the entire project team.

Areas of General Interest for the HSE Personnel


  • General – Describes the installation and purpose


  • Emergency Contact Numbers
  • Emergency procedures and action on site


  • Pressure Testing and Air Freeing of Process Plant on Site
  • Safety in Plant Commissioning
  • General Fire Protection and Prevention
  • Restricted Entry Area’s, fencing and demarcation


  • Respiratory Protective Equipment
  • Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus
  • Escape Filters, fire retardant clothing


  • Safety Training Concept
  • Training Modules Common to Pre-Commissioningand Commissioning Activities
  • Safety Training Modules Content


  • Lockout and Tagging
  • Working Inside Energized Buildings
  • Vessels/Confined Space Entry


  • Permits to Work
  • Lockout/Tagging
  • General


  • General
  • Codes and Standards e.g. API 700 or in house standards
  • Climatic Condition
  • Hazardous Area Classification
  • Fire Protection
  • Personal Protection
  • Fire and Safety Point Shelters
  • Fire & Gas Detection
  • Fire Proofing


  • Fire Water Network – Overview
  • Deluge System – Overview
  • Inert Gas System – Overview
  • Fire Equipment – Overview


The ability to read and interpret MSDS’ are critical in the identification of potential hazards in particluar related to fire, chemical and environmental risks.

The above plus specialist areas are dove-tailed into the pre-commissioning or commissioning plan or are sometimes separated into a HSE Pre- and commissioning plan.

Are we giving such a service to our commissioning Engineers?

(Shane Lishman is a Registered Commissioning Engineer with IACE specializing in HSE Commissioning, and presenter of the one day introductory course on HSE Commissioning)

Shane Lishman
Shane Lishman is a member of the Technical Committee with the International Association of Commissioning Engineers and holds the title of MIACE; he is also a Chartered in the United Kingdom with the International Organisation of Safety And Health, CMIOSH. He holds a Post Graduate Qualification from Nottingham University. Areas in which he has work or consulted include: Oil and Gas; Construction; HSE Commissioning; Forestry; rail; hospitality industry; Chemical industry including printing; to name a few. Shane has worked in the Middle East, countries in Africa and South Africa, specialising in mega contracts. His last 4 contracts have ranged from US$400m to US$1.7bn, and a future contract of US$9.8bn. Shane has not forgotten his roots and still practices when he can in South Africa and contributes to the profession as a whole.

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