What Is a Competent Person?

A competent person is a term defined by OSHA construction standards 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 the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them."

To be a competent person, one must have the knowledge, as well as experience, to protect workers by being able to identify hazards in the workplace, perform inspections, and have the authorization of the employer to protect the employees until the hazards can be eliminated. This requires training and knowledge of OSHA standards and policies.

Due to Subpart C of OSHA construction rules, routine inspections of materials, job sites, and equipment need to be completed by the competent persons that are designated by employers to perform these tasks. 

To have a qualified, competent person able to perform these inspections on site, construction employers designate a supervisor, safety representative, or foreman as the competent person. To be able to perform the duties, this designated person will be required to participate in a 30-hour OSHA training course to act as a supplement to their current knowledge about potential on-job hazards and OSHA policies.

Once the competent person is established, they must follow the specific requirements set forth by OSHA. The competent person will be required to perform daily inspections of all aspects of the construction job site including all excavations, adjacent areas, protective equipment and systems, indications of safety failures, cave-ins, and hazardous environments or conditions. These inspections will need to occur at the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. They also are required to be made after any event that could increase hazard, such as a bad storm.

It is important that an employer exercise caution when designating a competent person as they need to not only be knowledgeable in the OSHA standards, but also have extensive experience that would allow them to be able to identify the proper equipment, safety procedures, and possible hazards. No matter how long the employee has been on the job, if they are not knowledgeable in every aspect of the project process, they should not be selected.

What Are the Differences Between Competent Persons and Qualified Persons?

The way OSHA defines a qualified person is as an individual "who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project."

By definition, a qualified person is one who has the knowledge to determine parameters of the job, such as quantity, location, systems, clearances, standard safety systems and features, and how to install and supervise the installation of various requirements. They typically know how to perform a variety of construction related tasks, as well as what is necessary to perform the duty safely for all workers involved. 

A qualified person will be able to design and install lifelines, where a competent person would not be qualified, but once completed it is up to the competent person to analyze it in regard to employee safety as well as ensure that it meets the OSHA compliance regulations and standards.

So, the primary difference between a competent and qualified person is that a qualified person determines and ensures safety during the design and installation of equipment needed to perform work site tasks. The competent person is responsible for ensuring its safe use and inspecting it on a regular basis. The competent person also has the authority to shut down work if a safety hazard is present or a safety regulation is failing to be met.

Qualified persons are also required to have knowledge, experience, and training in their areas of expertise, but will not always possess the same or similar skill sets. For design and logistical problems involving fall protection on construction sites, having a qualified person to design and install systems is an essential part of the work site, but not an OSHA requirement.

To stay in compliance with OSHA, and help ensure the safety of your workers and overall safety of the work site, you will want to make sure that you have a designated competent person who has the knowledge and the skills to perform their duties. You will also want to have a qualified person responsible for the design and installation of work site fall protection equipment, and if unable to have a qualified person on staff to create the design, hire an outside engineering service to provide design, structural analysis, or document the safety for your fall protection system.

What Is Involved in Competent Person Training?

One of the most important, yet underused safety personnel on a construction site, the competent person is most often referenced in safety regulations, but many employers fail to realize that one is required on every job site.

To ensure each work site follows regulations by having a designated competent person, the employer should select a worker from each site who has the necessary knowledge and experience to undergo training to become the work site's competent person. It is important that this position is based on knowledge and skill, and not on physical ability or seniority.

Typically on smaller sites, a supervisor will be chosen to perform necessary inspections and have the authority to shut down the site in the event that unsafe or hazardous conditions present themselves. Many larger sites will utilize a safety officer as their competent person who has the authority to recognize and determine problems, and correct them or shut down the site if necessary. For sites that require multiple excavations or other possible hazards, such as use of scaffolding or cranes, the necessary knowledge required to complete the inspection may exceed those workers on the site, and an outside person may need to be chosen.

While all designated competent people will need to undergo the OSHA training to receive their certification and card, they will also need to undergo training that is related to the work performed at the actual job site.

For example, if the construction job involves laying sewer lines, the competent person should have knowledge, training, and experience in what goes into laying a sewer line.

When courses are chosen for the training of the competent person, it is important to review the content and topics discussed as many can be generalized and do not provide enough comprehensive training to provide workers with all the knowledge they may need to perform their job. When course selection is made, the type of work that is done on the site should be covered among the topics to ensure that the competent person is getting all of the necessary required training.

The employer needs to make sure that the training courses they require of their competent person include:

  • Specific job knowledge – Courses need to include detailed training on all of the specific jobs performed on the site.
  • Hazard recognition – Courses should include hazards that can be encountered during the work done at the site, as well as the appropriate emergency response during those situations.
  • Preventable measures – The courses should cover preventative measures to reduce the risk of hazard, as well as information on safety requirements.
  • Testing of comprehension – The chosen courses should require the trainee's knowledge to be tested so that they not only complete the necessary training, but comprehend what they were taught.

OSHA has established the requirement of a competent person to provide eyes and ears, aside from the employer, who is focused solely on the safety of the workers and not simply completing the work. Additionally, by giving workers at the site-level higher levels of responsibility, as well as the authority to act, there will be an increase in site safety which will help to prevent worker injury, disability, and even death.

There are three primary safety situations that caused OSHA to implement the use of the competent person on the job site and those include fall protection, excavations, and scaffolding. It is these three areas that offer the highest safety risks on most construction job sites.

While the OSHA requirement calls for one competent person to be responsible on the job site, depending on the complexity of the job, multiple competent people may be required to ensure that there is the appropriate amount of knowledge and experience necessary for all of the safety issues on the site to be monitored.

What Do You Need to Do to Become a Competent Person?

Even with the completion of the necessary OSHA training courses, you can only become the designated competent person if your employer decides to designate you as one. The employer will need to assess your training, as well as how well you did on the test, and evaluate your knowledge and experience both with the type of work and safety requirements, as well as OSHA regulations. Since the content in courses can vary greatly, the employer will also likely review the content that was covered in your training.

It is important for employers to properly vet and evaluate an employee before naming them the competent person. If the employer has any doubts about knowledge or ability, it is assured that OSHA will as well. If an employer begins to doubt the competent person they named, that person should be replaced.

Important Things to Note on Competent Person Classes

The classes to train competent people typically include the knowledge necessary to be able to appropriately perform all the tasks of the job. It is the employer's responsibility, though, to be sure that the employee participated, understood, and tested well in the knowledge of the courses that they took.

It is also important that even with appropriate attendance and test scores from the course, the employer also evaluate the employee's other knowledge and skills before appointing them the site's competent person. Additionally, the employer should establish an observation or probationary period to properly evaluate the employee's ability to perform their new job.

Once established, an employer needs to inform other employees of the competent person's position as well as the authority they are entitled to.

What Will OSHA Be Looking for When Reviewing Your Competent Person?

When OSHA comes to review your site, they will ask who the designated competent person is for two primary reasons:

  1. To ensure there is a competent person and that employees know who they are
  2. To be able to assess the competent person's level of authority and knowledge of the job site activities

Failure to produce a competent person, or having a competent person that lacks the proper skills and knowledge for the job, may result in a fine from OSHA.

With the risk of a citation, it is not only important to have a knowledgeable, well-trained employee designated as the work site's competent person, it is also important that their title is established and that the employees, supervisors, and any one associated with the job site know who it is. It is also important not to throw around the title, or name those who are not qualified to have it.

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