12th April, 2023
The competent person isn't someone employers can hand over all their health and safety responsibilities to. But it is someone who can assist and advise. In this post, we discuss this role, including the meaning, definition and legal requirements of the health and safety competent person.
If you have been asked who your health and safety competent person is, or been asked to be a health and safety competent person, you might be wondering what this means. Who is the competent person? What do they do?
In this post, we discuss this role, including the meaning, definition and legal requirements of the health and safety competent person.
A health and safety competent person is someone who can assist you with your employer's health and safety responsibilities. And they are a legal requirement.
You must get help from a competent person to enable you to meet the requirements of health and safety law.
You can appoint a competent person from within your own business (e.g. a staff member), and this is preferred. But you can also appoint a competent person from outside your business (e.g. a consultant) when you need extra help.
You might have one, or several, competent health and safety people helping with different aspects of health and safety management.
The competent person should have the skills and knowledge to point you in the right direction as an employer and let you know what you need to do to comply with the law and improve health and safety.
They might act as a consultant or adviser, providing recommendations. They might also act as a health and safety manager and have the authority to take action and report back.
A competent person is defined as a person that has the training, experience and knowledge to assist employers with their health and safety duties.
A competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.
The competent person isn't someone employers can hand over all their health and safety responsibilities to. Employers can't transfer their duties. But it is someone who can assist and advise. And a competent person will usually be taking on additional health and safety responsibilities too.
You might be asked for details of your competent person on pre-qualification questionnaires, for clients, or health and safety accreditation like CHAS. But a competent health and safety person isn't just a requirement for projects or accreditation, it's a legal requirement.
Every employer has health and safety responsibilities. But you are not expected to handle all of your health and safety duties alone.
And every business needs at least one health and safety competent person.
When talking about the health and safety competent person, you can find the legal requirement in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR).
In the MHSWR, it says that every employer shall appoint one or more 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...
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. And 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.
Going back to the MHSWR, we can see that it is preferable to have an employed competent person over an external adviser or consultant. It's written into the regulations.
(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.
There are times when an employee might have the right level of competence. And for legal requirements that affect you daily, or weekly, having assistance close at hand is invaluable. Even with the cost involved with ongoing training needed to keep up to speed with the regulations and to maintain knowledge, it usually works out cheaper than an external consultant.
But of course, you have to strike the right balance here.
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.
Let's consider the title of a competent person. A person who is competent. So to become a competent person, you need to be competent in the area of health and safety where you are appointed as a competent person.
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.
You become a competent person through:
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. -- HSE - A competent person
You could become a competent person in one area or several areas of health and safety.
For example, you might have someone working in your business that's very experienced in lifting operations. They might know how to plan and manage a lift safely, but not know the exact details of when to inspect equipment to comply with the law. With a little extra training, their skills and experience would make them an excellent competent person for lifting operations.
As we have already seen under MHSWR, a competent person is a legal requirement. It doesn't say you should, or you might, it says 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 more 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 - even necessary - to have more than one competent person to assist an employer with their legal duties.
For example, you may choose to appoint one person to act as a competent person under LOLER (the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations), and you may appoint someone else as a competent person for ladder or scaffold inspections.
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 what you need to do to comply with health and safety laws in the legal health and safety requirements for employers.
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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