The Competent Person

OSHA defines a Competent Person as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them" [29 CFR 1926.32(f)].” In short, the Competent Person has the ability to recognize and the authority to correct.

There are currently no further OSHA regulations defining a Competent Person. As with many of the OSHA Standards, they tend to leave an ambiguous explanation for defined areas of accountability.  Contrary to what you may have heard, or may believe, there are no specific training or certification requirements for the designation of a Competent Person.  One of the most misused and/or overused phrases in the work environment is “have you completed Competent Person Training”; there is no such thing as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor.  The employer is the only entity that can designate an employee competent.  

That leaves the question, what defines competent, and how can a company decide who can fill that vital role? 

Competence may be defined as having the skills or qualifications necessary to perform a particular task. A company may decide who fills those roles by defining criteria in a formalized manner. i.e., formal training, time with the company, testing, etc., or it may choose to promote people based on tenure and a demonstrated proficiency. Either way, in deciding who is a Competent Person, the company is granting that individual the authority defined in the second part of the definition: “Authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” This may mean stopping work until the hazard is corrected, ordering the correct equipment to do the job correctly, altering the work schedule, or eliminating unsafe individuals from the work environment.  Regardless of a company’s criteria for designating a Competent Person, this election should not be taken lightly.   

With authority comes accountability.  When you select an employee to work as a Competent Person, you are acknowledging your confidence in their ability to lead employees in the work environment, enforce safe work practices and complete assigned work tasks so your product and/or services are delivered in a proficient manner.  As the Competent Person is accountable for the behaviors of employees in the work environment, are you holding your Competent Person accountable for their behavior? 

Most companies invest little resources in the professional development of their leadership teams.  When empowering someone with authority it’s important that you invest in their success.  Advanced product courses, routine work process evaluation and safety leadership courses are all things to consider for the continued development of Competent Persons.  Remember that not all training is the same; the return on your investment will be directly proportionate to the quality of the training that is provided.

When you designate a Competent Person, Premier Risk Management recommends the following:

  1. Meet with them individually and discuss the expectations of this critical role.
  2. Prepare a written job description that clearly defines your expectations. 
  3. Encourage them to approach senior leaders with confidence when they have questions.
  4. Meet with them routinely to discuss their performance and areas of opportunity.
  5. Provide access to continuing education courses that provide a balance in their professional growth.
  6. Hold them accountable for defined expectations and acknowledge excellence when recognized.

Consistency + Continuity = Competency

// Dale Gillaspy, Premier Risk Management