The Role of the Competent Person

Recognizing and resolving hazards is key to a safe job site

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The competent person role can be confusing at times as many definitions have been floating around for years with different meanings, different roles and sometimes differing opinions on what authority the competent person actually has. There is even confusion about what a “Qualified Person” is and sometimes the roles are mixed up or combined to create more confusion.

OSHA defines the competent person role 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.” This definition is found in OSHA’s Construction standard 29 CFR 1926.32 (f) for reference.

The qualified person is defined as one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project. This definition is found in OSHA’s construction standard 29 CFR 1926.32 (m) for reference.

Basically, the qualified person is one who through engineering or some other means can solve a problem relating to a hazard, while a competent person can recognize the hazard and has the authority to correct the hazard or can halt work until the hazard is corrected. Sometimes, that means bringing in the qualified person to address the hazard because a more technical solution is required, and this is where the difference is made.

The type of work where a competent person should be available includes work zones, confined spaces, fall hazards, scaffold erection, cranes and trenching and excavation work. Generally, the competent person is authorized by the employer to ensure safety on a job site and has the expertise to recognize those hazards that need immediate attention.

It is important to understand that there is no OSHA test or specific training that makes an individual a competent person. The OSHA 30-hour course does not make someone competent either, mainly because classroom instruction and tests don’t necessarily give an individual the knowledge to recognize specific hazards, nor do they give the individual the authority to make corrections. This type of training helps but doesn’t guarantee knowledge, especially when you are on a job site with hazards that weren’t specifically addressed in the classroom. The competent person, however, should be familiar with the OSHA standards for the work being performed.

The employer must give the competent person the authority to correct hazards and must also ensure that the person has the knowledge to identify existing or predictable hazards. The company can also assign multiple competent persons depending on the size and complexity of the job.

If an OSHA inspector shows up on the job site one of the first questions asked will probably be who the competent person is onsite. Employees had better be able to point that person out so it’s important for the designated competent person to be known to all on the job site. This is typically going to be the foreman or supervisor. The OSHA inspector will want to talk to the competent person and ask questions pertaining to the work being done in regard to certain OSHA standards. If you do not have someone onsite designated as the competent person your company can be cited for failing to provide a competent person onsite.

Choosing the right competent person is vital to your job’s success as well as making sure you are within OSHA standards for safety. Obviously, someone who has the experience and knowledge for the type of work being performed — including the hazards — is step one. This person also must understand the responsibilities of being a competent person and be familiar with OSHA standards for the work being performed. Before designating the competent person, it’s important that the person meets the criteria as described above.


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