Why they matter, and how your organisation could unknowingly be in breach of Australian Standards

As anybody involved in ensuring the ongoing safe and reliable operation of electrical systems knows, thermographic inspections (also referred to as infrared scans, thermal scans and a number of other variations on the same terminology) are perhaps the most useful tool at their disposal. When you need this kind of inspection carried out the first people you are likely to turn to is your incumbent electrical or mechanical services contractor, or in-house electrician. Unfortunately, it’s often at this early stage in the process that the wheels fall off.


Why carry out thermographic inspections in the first place?

There are really only two reasons thermographic inspections are carried out, and they are not mutually exclusive.

Firstly, reliability and integrity of expensive assets. Regular thermographic inspections prevent costly unscheduled electrical breakdowns and, in extreme cases, significant damage to electrical systems and the surrounding structure. Secondly, many underwriters mandate it. Building insurance frequently requires regular thermographic inspections of the electrical distribution system by a qualified inspector at regular (normally annual, though often more frequently in high risk environments) intervals. No evidence of regular (compliant) thermographic inspections often means no help from the underwriter in the event of a serious electrical incident (fire, breakdown or, in some extreme cases, explosion).


The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Thermographic inspections are governed by standards which are often not well understood or widely disseminated. In many cases, they are completely ignored. Through poor or incomplete understanding of the requirements of these standards many organisations unwittingly expose themselves to high levels of risk and undermine the integrity of their insurance coverage – that’s coverage related to their building, continuity of business and loss of production. They also jeopardise the health and safety of their employees.

The relevant standards are AS ISO 18434.1:2014 Condition monitoring and diagnostics of machines – Thermography – General procedures and, more critically, AS ISO 18436.7:2014 Condition monitoring and diagnostics of machines – Requirements for qualification and assessment of personnel – Thermography. It is important to note the use of the nomenclature, ‘Requirements for qualification and assessment of personnel’ (the use of the word ‘machines’ is general in this instance and refers to both mechanical machines and electrical infrastructure). The standard outlines requirements; not recommendations, suggestions or guidelines.

AS ISO 18434.1:2014, section 17 “Qualification of personnel” states that “Thermographers shall be qualified and assessed in accordance with ISO 18436-7”. The first four words being the most critical; ‘Thermographers shall be qualified…’. This is an important distinction and states certification is an essential requirement and not simply a nice-to-have. It is also important to note that, while useful for carrying out thermographic inspections of electrical installations, an electrician’s license is not a thermographer’s qualification according to ISO 18436.7:2014.


So what are the qualifications exactly?

AS ISO 18436.7:2014 section 4 ‘Classification of personnel (thermography) lays out the three classifications of certification for professionals performing thermographic inspections and what they can, and by subtraction cannot, do. The most relevant points are summarised below (please note the lists are not exhaustive)

Category I

A category I certified thermographer can:

  • Apply specific measurement techniques
  • Setup and operate thermal imaging equipment for safe thermographic data collection
  • Perform basic fault detection and severity assessment in accordance with established instructions
  • Perform basic image post-processing
  • Maintain a database of results and trends
  • Verify the calibration of thermographic measurement systems; and
  • Evaluate and report test results and highlight areas of concern

Category II

A category II certified thermographer can:

  • Select the appropriate infrared thermography technique and understand it’s limitations
  • Apply thermography theory and techniques, including measurement and interpretation of survey results
  • Specify the appropriate hardware and software
  • Perform advanced fault diagnoses
  • Recommend appropriate field corrective actions
  • Perform advanced image post processing
  • Use generally recognized advanced techniques
  • Prepare reports on equipment condition, fault diagnoses, corrective actions and the effectiveness of repairs
  • Be aware of the use of alternative or supplementary condition monitoring techniques; and
  • Provide guidance to and supervise category I personnel

It’s important to note that a category I thermographer cannot perform the following tasks:

  • Select thermography techniques, hardware and software
  • Perform advanced fault diagnoses
  • Recommend field corrective actions
  • Prepare reports on equipment condition, fault diagnoses, corrective actions and the effectiveness of repairs

This is all of particular concern for two reasons:

  1. Many electrical and mechanical services contractors are carrying out thermographic inspections without any certification at all (neither category I nor category II) and are therefore carrying out work that has no validity under the Australian Standards
  2. Many electrical and mechanical services contractors are carrying out thermographic inspections to a level which their certification simply does not permit. Category I thermography certifications are currently the de facto standard for thermographic inspectors in the electrical industry and, as outlined above, are often totally insufficient for the kind of work and diagnoses that many inspectors are carrying out. If you are relying on a contractor to provide you with a preventative maintenance programme and recommendations based on electrical thermographic inspections, it is crucial that somebody within their organisation is certified to category II or III.


Completion vs. certification

Historically it has been very difficult to obtain the qualifications set out in AS ISO 18436.7:2014 within Australia due to limited Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) offering recognised courses in thermography (there were none in Western Australia until very recently). Compounding the issue was the fact that the standard itself is still quite new, having only been ratified in March 2014, and being an entirely new Australian Standard rather than a revision of a previous Australian Standard. Over the last couple of years this tide has started to turn and there are now a number of reputable RTOs regularly offering both category I and category II thermography courses at locations across the country.

It is important to note the eligibility requirements set out in the Standard and the difference between completion of a course and actual certification under the standard.

AS ISO 18436.7:2014, section 5 “Eligibility” sets out the specific requirements that must be met to obtain a qualification in infrared thermography that is recognised by the Standard. In particular, section 5.2 states that: “To be eligible to apply for assessment based on this part of ISO 18436, the candidates shall provide evidence of successful completion of training based on the requirements of Annex A”

Table 1 – Minimum duration of cumulative training (hours) specifies the minimum duration of cumulative training for the three categories of certification:

  • Category I 32 hours
  • Category II 64 hours
  • Category III 96 hours

This is the minimum classroom based training that is required in order for certification to be awarded.

Section 5.4.1 states: “To be eligible to apply for assessment based on this part of ISO 18436, the candidate shall provide evidence to the assessment body of experience in the field of thermography-based machinery condition monitoring in accordance with Table 2. Classification to category II and category III requires previous classification at the lower category”

 Table 2 – Minimum cumulative practical, interpretation and programme management experience requirements (months) details the individual experience requirement for each category of certification:

  • Category I – 12 months
  • Category II – 24 months
  • Category III – 36 months

Whilst a technician may achieve course completion following classroom training, they do not achieve certification under the Standard until the above experience requirement has been met, documented, and submitted to the Authorised Qualifying Body (AQB) for validation.


How do you tell the difference?

You simply need to ask the question. In the same way that an electrician must always be able to produce their electrical license, a thermographer must always be able to produce their certification.

There are only two certifications recognised under the Standard, those issued by the Australian Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (AINDT) and those issued by the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BIDNT) PCN certification scheme.

Any other certification falls into one of two categories:

  1. Second-party certification; the most common of which is the American ASNT scheme, which, while prevalent in the Australian industry, is not recognised under the Standard.
  2. Certificates of course completion; which are only a stepping stone on the way to certification, and not certification in-and-of itself

Neither of the above forms of certification is considered valid under the Standard.


Why does it matter?

It goes without saying that you do not want to find yourself in a situation where an underwriter refuses to pay out on a serious electrical incident. This may occur simply because the contractor you engaged to carry out your regular thermographic inspections was not actually qualified to do so. The easiest way to protect your business and the safety of your employees is to use a properly certified contractor to carry out your thermographic inspections.



It is important to note that the Australian Standards referred to in this article are not currently mandated by legislation, and a failure to abide by them is not illegal. However, a majority of insurance policies, service/construction contracts, and the like include nomenclature to the effect that “all work must be conducted in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards”. By working outside of the relevant standards organisations may be breaching terms of their insurance policy and/or any other relevant contract or written agreement. If you are unsure, consult with your insurance representative.

This article is intended as a position paper and informational summary of the relevant Australian Standards. It should not be assumed to be endorsed by AusPTA, AINDT, NECA, Standards Australia or any other regulatory body or trade association.