The Competent Person is arguably one of the most underused safety personnel on any given job site. Yet it is one of the most referenced responsibilities in construction regulations and many employers don’t realize that one is required on every job site. OSHA defines a competent person 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 authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”
An employer should select a competent person for each work site, from the pool of available workers at that site. This selection should be made based on experience, skills, and knowledge. Most small work sites enlist the supervisor and give them the authority to shut down the site until a hazardous condition is corrected.
On larger sites a safety officer usually enlists a competent person with recognizing hazards and correcting them, with authority to shut down the site until a hazardous condition is corrected.
If the site has multiple hazards such as excavation activities, fall hazards, crane hazards, or scaffolding operations, the depth of knowledge and experience needed may exceed the personnel available. In this case, the employer will need to get the “competent person” candidate up to speed as soon as possible through competent person training.
The type of training needed depends on the job site. And for competent persons, it should be specific to their job function. For example, a worker selected as the competent person for a site where a sewer line is being installed should have either the proper amount of experience in that type of job, or a sufficient level of training to prepare that person, preferably both.
Having just an OSHA 10 or 30 Hour card does not provide adequate coverage of the more detailed training needed by a competent person. Many courses are general and designed to meet a “ticket punch” requirement so always check the content and topics covered to make sure it is comprehensive enough and provides the knowledge needed. An awareness level course is simply not sufficient enough for the depth of knowledge needed by a competent person.
How should the employer select the course? First of all, select a course specifically designed for “competent persons” and for the construction topic desired. Look at the contents to ensure it covers specific responsibilities including hazard recognition and in most cases – emergency response. Some courses go over the regulations, which cover preventative measures, but do not cover the actions to be taken when an incident occurs. Record the course contents of the selected course and include those in the training record to demonstrate the subject coverage. Select courses with plenty of questions throughout and at the end of the course to demonstrate understanding and comprehension.
In short, the employer or safety manager of a job site cannot have eyes and ears everywhere. OSHAs purpose in establishing a competent person is to extend the eyes and ears of the employer or safety officer through those workers who are closer to the work being doing, and workers performing the job. Empowering these site-level workers to take more responsibility, and giving them the authority to act will increase the safety of any job site, helping to prevent injury, death, equipment damage, and regulatory fines.