Loss Control Insights
What Is a Competent Person as Defined by OSHA?
Several OSHA standards—including those relating to construction and manufacturing—refer to the need for a “competent person” as a safety component.
What Is a Competent Person?
While this is a commonly asked question, the answer isn’t always cut and dried. Companies usually have to make their own decision on which employees can serve as a competent person. That’s because there are no specific OSHA standards regarding competent persons. But OSHA’s definition of the term does offer a glimpse of what is expected of a competent person.
A competent person has both the authority and experience in the job to evaluate and make critical changes in dangerous situations. These are often life-or-death occurrences so it’s vital that your company chooses competent persons carefully.
When Is a Competent Person Needed?
Excavation safety is an area where a competent person is essential. If a crew is digging a deep, narrow trench, there is a concern that the walls may cave in, which can result in injuries and death. OSHA requires that at a depth of more than 4 feet, the sides of the trench should be shored or sloped. The appointed competent person should know enough about soil types, the impact that past soil disturbances might have had on current digging, fissure cracks after a rain and more.
Scaffolding is another area that requires a competent person to evaluate conditions. The expert needs to know safety details about leveling, stability, the weight and type of boards that can safely be used, guard rails and more.
Your company will likely need a different competent person (or several) for each job hazard at your workplace. Each expert must be able to identify when to stop all work and be able to order repairs or changes that need to be made before any work can continue.
Your Company’s Role
A competent person doesn’t just magically appear at your job site. There are steps you must take to ensure that every major operation has the protection of a competent person:
- Identify and develop a group of competent persons within your company. You can provide appropriate training and groom employees to learn the technical skills necessary to evaluate dangers and potential pitfalls.
- Give competent persons the authority to make immediate decisions. If a danger exists, the competent person must be able to make an immediate action. Your highly skilled safety personnel needs to know they have support from management and the authority to make important decisions on behalf of the company.
- Ensure all employees understand the company prizes safety and trusts your competent persons. Employees need to know that company morals and worker safety are more important than a job completion date. Ensure you communicate that appointed competent persons have employee safety at the heart of all decisions.