20th April, 2023
The requirements for competence have changed slightly in the 2015 version of the CDM regulations compared to the previous 2007 version. And competence is still an important part of CDM requirements, so here's what competence means, and how to assess it for CDM.
The CDM 2007 approved code of practice had a whole section dedicated to competence (Competence and training p.45 - 53), but the CDM 2015 guidance doesn't even contain the word competence... not once!
Does that mean we are no longer required to be competent when working in construction? Of course not - the CDM regulations are about making sites safer after all.
But the requirements for competence changed slightly in the current 2015 version of the CDM regulations compared to the previous 2007 version.
In this post, we will look at what the CDM regulations require when it comes to competence, and how we assess competence.
They might not talk about competence specifically, but the CDM regulations say that those working on a construction project must have the skills, knowledge, experience and capability to carry out their role(s) in a way that secures health and safety.
(1) A designer (including a principal designer) or contractor (including a principal contractor) appointed to work on a project must have the skills, knowledge and experience, and, if they are an organisation, the organisational capability, necessary to fulfil the role that they are appointed to undertake, in a manner that secures the health and safety of any person affected by the project.
The 2015 version of the regulations might not throw the word competence around as the 2007 version did, but when we look back at the 2007 regulations, it describes competence as having "sufficient knowledge of the specific tasks to be undertaken... sufficient experience and ability to carry out their duties in relation to the project". This is pretty much the same as the current requirement for skills, knowledge, experience and capability.
Competence for CDM is about knowing how to perform your job without risk to your own health and safety or the health and safety of others.
Competence is a mixture of:
Classroom training alone isn't enough to be competent, which is why many construction-related training courses (like NVQs) are heavily job-based.
Competence is not just about training courses or certificates, although this can form part of the knowledge element. And for certain tasks, such as gas or electrical work licenses and qualifications are a must-have requirement.
But for some roles, you may already be competent through your existing skills and experience. Or, you may work towards competence with extra support and training.
Get up to speed with CDM roles and their duties in our free CDM guides for all duty holders.
Every duty holder should be competent for their own role.
The CDM regulations put a duty on contractors, designers and other consultants appointed to ensure they are competent to undertake the work for which they are being appointed.
Designers (including the principal designer) have a duty to make sure that they are competent and adequately resourced to address the health and safety issues likely to be involved in the design.
Contractors (including the principal contractor) have a duty to satisfy themselves that they and anyone they employ or engage are competent and adequately resourced for the construction work.
(2) A designer or contractor must not accept an appointment to a project unless they fulfil the conditions in paragraph (1).
So if someone takes on a role as a designer or a contractor on a construction project, and they are not competent, they are breaking the law under CDM.
But they are not the only ones breaching the CDM regulations.
The CDM regulations place the duty to ensure competence on all members of the project team. The client and any other person appointing people on the project team must ensure those they appoint are competent and adequately resourced.
(3) A person who is responsible for appointing a designer or contractor to carry out work on a project must take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the designer or contractor fulfils the conditions in paragraph (1).
The CDM regulations place duties on the appointees, as well as the appointed, as an extra safeguard layer of checks, to ensure that those appointed are competent and sufficiently resourced to plan and carry out the work safely.
So, if a person or organisation does not have the skills, knowledge, experience and capability to perform the role, there are at least two potential breaches of the regulations. One by the person making the appointment, and one by the person accepting the appointment!
You should check competence under CDM:
Any client, contractor, designer, or person appointing members of the project team must check competence before making the appointment.
Any person accepting an appointment has to make sure they are competent before accepting the appointment.
Aside from it being a legal requirement, why do the CDM regulations place such importance on competence?
The obvious answer is to ensure that work is carried out safely, which is the primary focus of the CDM regulations.
For example, appointing team members on the lowest price only, without regard to any training, skills, qualifications, experience, or standards could lead to the work being carried out by an incompetent team.
When part of the project team is incompetent, they cannot adequately control the hazards, and therefore increase the risk on site.
The construction industry is one of the most dangerous places to work, and a competent workforce will help keep your sites and team safe.
Accidents cost money and time, and damage your reputation, and having these checks in place at the start can help you avoid CDM breaches, fines and even prison time.
How do you go about ensuring those you appoint are competent to do the work asked of them? Do you just ask them, or is there more to it?
Well, first of all, let's remember that the CDM competence requirement is a two-way street. Not only do you need to ensure that those you are appointing are competent, but they also need to be sure they are competent before accepting an appointment.
(1) A designer (including a principal designer) or contractor (including a principal contractor) appointed to work on a project must have the skills, knowledge and experience, and, if they are an organisation, the organisational capability, necessary to fulfil the role that they are appointed to undertake, in a manner that secures the health and safety of any person affected by the project. (2) A designer or contractor must not accept an appointment to a project unless they fulfil the conditions in paragraph (1).
Competence is not a one size fits all approach, the competence required for an electrician will be different to a kitchen designer, for example. But in both cases, it all boils down to having the skills, knowledge, experience and capability for the work they plan to carry out.
Need help making appointments under CDM? Use the principal contractor appointment, principal designer appointment, contractor appointment, and designer appointment forms to make sure you always have your appointments in writing.
To assess competence the first step you can take involves assessing the organisation and management arrangements for health and safety in the work being undertaken.
The assessment will cover areas such as policy, arrangements, qualifications, training, access to appropriate advice, monitoring, accident reporting and records, subcontractor procedures, risk assessment and welfare provision.
Usually, your competence checks will form part of a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ) and is very common in construction tender processes, especially for the roles of principal contractor and principal designer.
This first area of competence is often assessed by various health and safety accreditation schemes developed specifically for the construction sector. There are a wide number of these accreditation schemes, such as CHAS, SafeContractor, Acclaim, and Exor.
Some clients may even require you to be a member of one of the above schemes to become involved with a particular project, and you can find out more about this type of accreditation in our blog post What Is SSIP Accreditation?
Next, you should check the ability to deal with the health and safety issues that are involved in the project. While a contractor might have gained health and safety accreditation, is it relevant to the type of work planned in your project?
Maybe they have only carried out residential work previously, and this project is on an industrial site?
Maybe they have been assessed for competency for landscaping projects, and you plan to appoint the contractor for demolition work!
So it is important to check that the experience they have is relevant to the planned project, or if extra supervision or training will be required.
And remember, competence is a mixture of:
To check competence, you should make sure that the skills, knowledge, experience and capability a person or organisation possesses are relevant to the type and size of your project, in terms of the challenges, hazards and risks faced.
Need help assessing subcontractor competence? Download our subcontractor vetting questionnaire to help you gather required health and safety management information.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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