Most OSHA construction regulations require a designated competent person to be on site who can recognize hazards and threats related to a specific task. These people are usually foremen, supervisors, or someone else who has the knowledge needed to be able to identify and recognize these threats. So when a manager or supervisor calls someone on the job site a competent person, it is not as much of a compliment as it is a legal obligation. However, there has been much confusion regarding competent persons since OSHA actually does not have a specific regulation associated with competent persons. As a result, a lot of people and job sites believe that they can simply assign the most knowledgeable individual as far as recognizing threats in the workplace, or assign someone who has attended a class, and they’re covered. There is actually competent person training that workers can take that will train them on what they need to do when they are designated the competent person on the job site.
The competent person can change depending on the specific task at hand. For instance, if the task is being performed on scaffolding, then the designated competent person should be someone who is extensively knowledgeable in scaffolding and scaffolding hazards. This designation should not be taken lightly! As a manager or supervisor, your decision as to who the competent person will be for a given task could mean the difference between life and death for your workers. This is why competent person training is suggested so strongly. Knowledge in the task alone will not always prevent or reduce accidents that could possibly happen. Competent person training will train workers in all aspects of what a competent person needs to be while on the job site including what to do before the task, during the task, and after the task. Any person chosen as a competent person should not have only taken competent person training at some point, but they also need to be able to correct anything that could go wrong at any given moment. If the employee cannot do this, then they cannot be considered a competent person for that given task.
Due to the fact that there are usually several different tasks being performed on a job site at any given time, it is important that the competent person either has the authority to make safety related changes, or know who they can go to that can make those changes. Sometimes, a job site will require more than one competent person at once. It is not common for one person to be the competent person for the entire job site. There are so many specialized tasks being performed on a job site that it would be almost impossible for one individual to be considered an expert on every single one of them, and to be considered as a competent person for ANY task, you must be considered an expert on that task.
Competent Person vs. Qualified Person
One thing we would like to point out is that a competent person and a qualified person are two different types of people. Yes, they have many similarities, but the differences are notable and must be understood since OSHA does mandate a “qualified person” in some instances. To put it simply, a competent person is someone who can identify and recognize hazards and also has the authority, or knows the person who has the authority, to mitigate those hazards. A qualified person is someone who has a recognized degree, certificate, or has extensive experience and abilities in solving problems. This can include technical or engineering knowledge. So, if you are working a trenching operation on the job site, the competent person would be the one who recognizes all the possible hazards relating to the operation and what needs to be done to reduce or prevent accidents from happening. The qualified person is the one who has the knowledge required to design the protective system within the trench.
Competent person training is very, very important. Unfortunately, a lot of employees and supervisors alike overlook its importance and it results in accidents happening that could of otherwise been reduced or even completely prevented. Don’t let something happen to one of your employees that you could’ve prevented with a simple class. Enroll yourself and your employees in competent person training and give you and your workers both peace of mind when working on the job site.