The Health And Safety Competent Person header image

8th April, 2019

The Health And Safety Competent Person

If you have been asked about your health and safety competent person or been asked to be one, you might be wondering what this means. Who is the competent person? What do they do? You might be asked for details of your competent person on pre-qualification questionnaires, or for health and safety accreditation like CHAS.

In this post, we discuss this role, including the meaning, definition and legal requirements of the health and safety competent person.

Competent Person Meaning

When talking about the health and safety competent person, the meaning usually goes back to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). In these regulations, it is a requirement for every employer to appoint competent persons to assist with health and safety requirements.

7.—(1) Every employer shall, subject to paragraphs (6) and (7), appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him...

The competent person isn't someone who employers can hand over all their health and safety responsibilities to. They can't transfer their duties. But it is someone who can assist and advise. They should have the skills and knowledge to point the employer in the right direction and let them know what they need to do. They might act as a consultant or adviser, providing recommendations. They might also act as a health and safety manager so that they have the authority to take action and report back.

Notice that there is not just one competent person, but can be one or more. After all, there are over 100 health and safety regulations. You might need multiple people to assist with different regulations. For example, Bill on site might act as a competent person for inspecting excavations. Beth the project manager might take control of assisting with the measures needed under the provision and use of work equipment regulations (PUWER).

Competent Person Definition

Ok, we now know what the term 'competent person' means in health and safety. Who they are, someone appointed by employers. And what they do, assist with health and safety requirements.

But who can be a competent person?

Let's consider the title, competent person. A person who is competent. The Oxford dictionary defines competent as "having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully". In terms of the health and safety competent person, this is a person who has the ability, knowledge or skill to assist the employer in health and safety requirements.

A competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.

Just to complicate things a little bit more, you might need different competent persons, for different health and safety matters.

competent person
A competent person will assist with health and safety requirements

Competent Person Legal Requirements

As we have already seen under MHSWR, the competent person is a legal requirement. They don't say you should, or you might, they say you shall appoint a competent person.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations are not the only place you will find mention of the competent person. This role pops up time and time again in various health and safety regulations. Here are some examples:

(a) the excavation and any work equipment and materials which may affect its safety have been inspected by a competent person

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 Excavations

...if appropriate for the purpose, is inspected by a competent person at suitable intervals between thorough examinations... assembly, use and dismantling plan shall be drawn up by a competent person.

Again, this shows why it may be useful, or even necessary, to have more than one competent person to assist an employer with their legal duties. You may choose to appoint one person to act as a competent person under LOLER (the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations). You may appoint someone else as a competent person for ladder or scaffold inspections.

health and safety planning
Competent persons are needed by a number of regulations

Back to the MHSWR and we can see that it is preferable to have an employed competent person over an external adviser or consultant.

(8) Where there is a competent person in the employer’s employment, that person shall be appointed for the purposes of paragraph (1) in preference to a competent person not in his employment.

Why might this be? Well, if your competent person works for you directly, they are going to know your business, your work activities and your team much better than someone who only comes to visit once a month, or once a year. Of course, you have to strike the right balance here.

There are times when an employee might have the right level of competence. Yes, there can be a cost involved with ongoing training needed to keep up to speed with the regulations and to maintain knowledge. But for legal requirements that affect you daily, or weekly, having assistance close at hand in invaluable.

There are times when you may need to get specialist external help. For example an unusual or infrequent hazard or activity. Or some task you only need to undertake once a year. It might not be practical, or possible to have someone with the knowledge, experience and expertise in house. Especially if you have a small team.

Remember, you can have one or more competent persons. Just because you have appointed someone internally, doesn't mean you can't get outside when (and if) you need it. And just because you have an external consultant, doesn't mean you can't have an employee act as a competent person for certain health and safety requirements.

Find out more about the legal health and safety requirements for employers.

share on twitter share on facebook share on linked in share by email
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.

Better health and safety...

We are here to help you and your business put safety in everything.

Learn More

Recent posts like this...

Reporting Accidents, Injuries And Incidents At Work

Accidents, injuries and unexpected incidents at work, are something you try to avoid. But they can happen. When they do, it's good to report them, and investigate them. Even if no one was seriously hurt. Because it's an opportunity to find out why it happened. And to stop it happening again.

Read Post

What The Law Says About Hot Water At Work

No hot water at work? Hand washing is important for cleanliness, at work and at home. As an employee, you have legal rights to certain welfare facilities at work. As an employer, if you don't provide it, you could find yourself in a different kind of hot water with the HSE or local authorities.

Read Post

Your Near Miss Reporting Procedure Needs These 5 Simple Rules

If you are thinking about starting a near miss reporting system, you need more than a form. A successful near miss reporting system starts with good design and ends with results. Here are 5 simple rules that will help you get the most out of your near miss reporting procedure.

Read Post

HASpod makes health and safety simple.

Learn More