What Is a “Competent Person”?

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Jan 08, 2016

Construction contractors hear the term “competent person” in the construction safety industry all the time.   However, the term is often confusing among members of the construction industry, including the owners, managers, and supervisors as well as the construction workers.

ThinkstockPhotos-78619223.jpgThe definition of a competent person, as written by regulatory language of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), provides some help.  Title 29 CFR 1926.32(f) supplies the following definition:

“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” [29 CFR 1926.32(f)].  By way of training and/or experience, a competent person is knowledgeable of applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, and has the authority to correct them.  Some standards add additional specific requirements which must be met by the competent person.”

The term competent person is cited throughout the OSHA standards.  Some standards contain specific educational and training requirements, including excavations, fall protection, roofing, noise exposure, lift slab operations, stairways and ladders, scaffold inspections, cranes, and steel erection.

When a competent person is required for a job site as specified by OSHA, that person should have an understanding of both the meaning and the responsibilities that come with the title of “competent person.”  Being a competent person is about having both knowledge and the ability to take action.  A competent person is one who:

  • Knows hazards are likely to exist, including unsafe work practices.
  • Knows how to control or eliminate hazards.
  • Has the authority to correct hazards and does so immediately.

How does a competent person fit in with a job site safety and health program? 

All construction companies must have comprehensive safety and health programs in place.  The programs must provide for frequent and regularly documented inspections by competent persons for:

  • Job sites
  • Materials
  • Equipment

The day-to-day implementation of safety inspections relies on the competent person.  Failure to have a competent person inspect work areas can result in numerous accidents, injuries, near misses, and OSHA violations each year. 

Who is responsible for providing competent persons and safety on job sites?

According to OSHA, the overall general contractor is ultimately responsible for assuring all contractors working on their job site fulfill their obligations with respect to employee safety when it affects the entire job site.  It’s also the general contractor’s responsibility to assure compliance with applicable safety standards, either directly or through a supervisory role.  The general contractor is responsible for all violations that are preventable or avoidable by reason of their supervisory capacity. 

Although general contractors aren’t required to duplicate safety efforts of subcontractors, they must be familiar with the safety efforts subcontractors are required to take and whether or not competent persons are required for a specific operation.

The general contractor can rely upon the subcontractor to protect against hazards related to its expertise if the general contractor, after careful consideration, has no reason to foresee work will be performed in an unsafe manner.

Additional information on competent persons can be found on OSHA’s Internet site: http://www.osha.gov.


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