Workplace Considerations - What is a competent person?

What do they do? And does my business need one?

We're starting a new series - workplace considerations - different topics which both directly and indirectly impact every workplace, whether you are the owner, manager, or employee - these health and safety considerations must be taken into account.

So, here's what we're going to cover:

  1. What is a competent person? What do they do? And does my business need one?
  2. What are risk assessments all about? We're also going to discuss risk management and education.
  3. Health and safety in an office environment
  4. What is health surveillance?
  5. What are the requirements for first aid at work?
  6. How do I handle drugs and alcohol in the workplace?
  7. Managing slips, trips and falls.
  8. Dealing with stress at work.
  9. Cases of corporate manslaughter
  10. Looking after your business and summing up these topics


We've got a lot of ground to cover so we had better get started.

What is competence? And more specifically a competent person?

 Competence - The ability to do something successfully or efficiently - Oxford English Dictionary.

How about the Health and Safety Executive's definition? Their definition is that of a person with 'sufficient' training, experience or knowledge along with any other required qualities which will allow them to assist the person with overall responsibility for health and safety. The HSE are explicit in that the level of competence required will always depend on the situation's complexity and the help required.

Working Safety Procedures
For example, the level of complexity within a village office building will be vastly different from a Radiation Protection Advisor, which will in turn require a different type of experience to a competent person in charge of quarries.

Being recognised as the competent person on site isn't always fun. You must be able to recognise the risks associated with the tasks under your purview as well as being able to mitigate those risks or recommend the most effective solution to the owner. Within the construction industry, for example, this could be the site supervisor/manager.

So now for the question - does my business need a competent person? The short answer is yes.

Regulation 7 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 tells us that every employer must appoint at least one, often more, competent persons to assist them in undertaking the measures required to ensure compliance with the requirements under UK health and safety legislation.

While preference should be given to internal candidates when selecting a competent person, this isn't always possible (the employer can also be the competent person). As such external options include, for example, a health and safety consultant which becomes necessary when the level of experience and knowledge internally is insufficient in keeping people safe.

Remember, when selecting a competent person they must:

  • Have the appropriate level of experience, knowledge and skills
  • Be able to sufficiently apply these to the role
  • The training available to acquire and maintain this level

What should we be consulting our workforce about?

A part of a competent person's job is to consult with the rest of the workforce and to relay information and results between the workforce and employer. But the question remains, what specifically is there to consult about?

Dog in hi vis vestUnder UK health and safety law there are multiple factors which you must consult your workforce about. First of all, consider any changes to existing procedures or when introducing new procedures. The same applies when it comes to types of work. If you're introducing new ways of working, or expanding the work which employees will need to carry out, this must be discussed prior to implementation.

New equipment must be examined by the competent person and sufficient training given to any who may come into contact with it. Any follow up concerns raised by members of staff should be addressed accordingly, equally a change or the introduction of multiple premises should be addressed through consultation.

New shift patterns (i.e ways of working) must also be addressed. If you're introducing a nightshift, employees must be made aware well in advance of any shift change. As well as this, it is worth discussing the means through which you have appointed your competent person(s), if you have appointed a health and safety manager what are their qualifications and experience?

You must provide your workforce with information on the risks which will likely be faced in the line of duty, but more specifically what is the best way for this information to be shared? You should also hold discussions with your staff while planning health and safety training.


To sum up this section, you must consult your workforce about:

  • Changes to existing procedures or the introduction of new ones
  • Expansion of employees' current duties
  • Introduction of new equipment or machinery
  • New shift patterns or ways of working
  • Risks which will be faced by your workforce
  • The planning of health and safety training

The HSE recommends the following good practice tips:

  • The scope of consultation - don't limit the scope of consultation to a pre-set list.
  • Consult employees on key H&S issues - consult and involve employees and health and safety representatives.
  • Provide feedback - provide feedback to explain decisions and respond to issues.
  • Address health issues as well as safety - employee involvement is a good way to help you address work-related health issues.

Are there industry differences when it comes to competence?

Yes. Key competencies differ per industry, workplace and environment. As discussed earlier, an office environment will require health and safety representatives to have different competence levels in comparison to a laboratory. I recommend taking a look here:

What are the training options?

There are several major organisations which can help you train health and safety representatives, however it is vital to remember that competence is gained through experience as well as knowledge:

  • The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (Nebosh)
  • Institution of Occupational Safety (IOSH)
  • The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
  • The British Safety Council

Note that these are not the only options for health and safety training.


Speak Soon,


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