Who can be a Competent Person in a Construction Company?

Who can be a Competent Person in a Construction Company?

23rd May 2019

When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) legally require that you appoint a competent person to manage health and safety.  For construction company owners, this is a vital issue as building is one of the most hazardous jobs, especially when work at height is involved.   The term “competent person” comes up several times in health and safety regulations, and there may be a requirement to have more than one competent person to ensure that you are compliant with legislation as an employer. 

You may appoint a competent person for ladder or scaffold inspections and another competent person to carry out a full site risk assessment.  However, it’s important to understand that you cannot just hand over all of your health and safety responsibilities to a competent person, they will assist and advise you and should have the relevant knowledge and skills to let you know what you need to do in order to remain compliant.  With more than a hundred health and safety regulations I force, you may need multiple people to assist in ensuring that you comply with health and safety regulations.  The competent person may act as a health and safety manager with the authority to take action and report back to you. 

The definition of a competent person may be ambiguous.  The dictionary defines competence as “having the necessary ability, skill, or knowledge to do something successfully” – that’s a pretty broad definition.  When it comes to a health and safety competent person, the person should have the ability, knowledge and skills to assist the employer in health and safety requirements.  According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a competent person:

“has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.”

Under MHSWR, it is better to have a competent person whom you employ, rather than an external advisor or consultant.  There are several reasons for this, the most important being that a person who is employed by you will know your business model, be familiar with all of your company’s work activities and know your team members in a way in which is impossible for an external advisor to do.  There will be certain expenses involved with ensuring that the competent person receives ongoing training to keep up to date with the regulations and acquire new knowledge when progress and developments are made in the field of health and safety. 

On certain occasions, it may be necessary to seek specialised external help – for instance if you encounter an infrequent hazard or you have a task that only needs performing once a year or so.  When it comes to specialist knowledge, it may not be practical for your company to employ somebody with the necessary expertise and experience, especially for smaller construction companies with small teams of employees.