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.
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).
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.
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
...if appropriate for the purpose, is inspected by a competent person at suitable intervals between thorough examinations...
...an 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.
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.