What makes a Competent Person?

Throughout legislation and documentation the term ‘Competent Person’ is mentioned repeatedly. However, for those people who are new to a Health & Safety role, or opening their first business, it is actually extremely hard to find a definition for the well-used term. It is a legal requirement for an employer to appoint at least one ‘Competent Person’ within their business. But how do you know who the right person for the role is?

What is competence?

The best place to start is to define competence. Oxford Dictionaries definition is ‘The ability to do something successfully or efficiently’ – which can be applied to all areas of work or indeed life.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Reg 7 (1) goes further to explain this within the Health & Safety remit:

‘Competence is the ability to undertake responsibilities and perform activities to a recognised standard on a regular basis. It combines practical and thinking skills, knowledge and experience.’

Qualifications and training

Qualifications leading to competency, understandably, very much depend on the job role but can be a way to ensure skills are obtained.

Training for a new job role is key, and this should continue throughout employment to ensure that all colleagues maintain and improve their skills.

There should be a word of warning with relying solely on training though, according to James Clayton ‘Many organisations make the mistake of equating training with competency’. However, in addition to the other components mentioned above, competent completion of a job also requires ‘willingness and reliability that work activities will be undertaken in accordance with agreed standards, rules and procedures’

Having a Competent Person in a business is vital. If you need one, we can help.

How can I be a ‘Competent Person’?

You must be able to practically apply what you have learned and have the capability to adapt to new environments according to day-to-day activities and experience. Training plays a big part in competence, so understanding how training interacts with the relevant activities of a working environment is key. In effect, some people may be so knowledgeable about a job due to the time they’ve spent undertaking the work that they don’t actually need to conduct any formal training because their experience is enough.

As always, there are consequences for those who fail to meet the legal requirement to appoint a competent person. An example of this from earlier in the year resulted in the death of a hospice patient and life changing effects for a worker after they contracted Legionnaires’ disease at St Christopher’s Hospice, Sydenham. The HSE found that the hospice had ‘failed to appoint a competent person to manage the risk of legionella in the Hospice’s hot and cold water system’ and therefore ‘it was entirely foreseeable that there would be risk’ of this happening. The hospice pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 3(1) and 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and was sentenced to a two year conditional discharge, and ordered to pay costs of £25,000.

Whilst measuring up an asbestos roof on a tractor shed to install solar panels, an employee fell through the roof at Woodland Farm, near Watton. Employee Chris Eldon was considered to be ‘very experienced and he had significant training to make him aware of the risks which were inherent in the kind of work he was undertaking’, however the HSE concluded that there was an inadequate risk assessment and planning in place. Klentiana Mahmutaj, prosecuting for the HSE said “What should have happened was for the roof to be assessed by a competent person, who would have concluded it was fragile” – which also reinforces our message in ‘The importance of Risk Assessments.’ 

What it looks like when done effectively What it looks like when done badly or not at all
• Everyone know the risks created by the business and understand how to manage them

• Key responsible people/job holders are identified and there are clearly established roles and responsibilities

• People have the necessary training, skills, knowledge and experience to fulfil their responsibilities and are given enough time to do so

• Training takes place during normal working hours and employees are not charged

• Beyond compliance

• Lessons learned and good practice are shared internally and externally

• Lack of awareness of key hazards/ risks

• People lack the skills, knowledge and experience to do their job

• Health and safety advice and training are irrelevant, incompetent or wrong

• No standards set; people not held accountable

• Insufficient action is taken to comply with the law

• Knee-jerk reactions follow incidents/ near misses

• The organisation does not know what it needs to do to move forward


With all of the above in light, having a ‘Competent Person’ in a business is vital. Employers are held accountable for the wrong appointment (or lack of altogether) but surely everyone in an organisation can be on the lookout? Shield Safety Group provide ‘Competent Person’ training courses to ensure that the relevant people in your business have the knowledge and experience to be classified as a ‘Competent Person’.

Would you like to engage with one of our Competent Person(s)? Or perhaps you’d like to book a training course? Fill out the form below and one of our team will be in touch.

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Prefer to chat to us over the phone? Call Steven on 020 3740 3744

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official Food Safety, Fire Safety and Health & Safety advice. Shield Safety take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shield Safety services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email hello@shieldsafety.co.uk.

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