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OSHA standards and the ‘competent person’

Who qualifies?

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Photo: Missouri Department of Transportation/flickr

‘Culture, attitude and behavior’

During his surveillance or when he first arrived to a worksite, Lasavage said he would observe “the culture, attitude and behavior.” Is the competent person directing other employees and correcting improper safety behaviors? Do the employees appear to have been trained properly? 

“Safety should be cultivated by the attitudes of the competent person,” he said. “The competent person should lead by example. If the competent person shows a genuine attitude of making sure everyone makes it home safely at the end of the shift, then the workers will usually share that genuine concern for one another’s safety. 

“Making workers feel like a team who genuinely care for one another creates a positive work environment, as well as a safer work environment.”

After inspecting a jobsite, Lasavage would interview a few selected contractors and their employees individually. (For example, a roofer, an electrician, a framer and a plumber.) Their answers often gave more clues about the competent person – or lack thereof. 

“First thing that I would ask is, ‘Who is the competent person?’” he said. “The next thing I would say, ‘What are you competent in? Who gave you the authority to be the competent person? What authority do you have?’”

Lasavage then might’ve asked whether they perform daily inspections and to see written documentation of daily/weekly toolbox meetings and rosters with signatures to ensure workers had attended. “Let me see your corrections and what you have found and what you are correcting,” Lasavage said he’d tell the competent person.

Qualified vs. certified vs. authorized

Richard Fairfax, a former deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA and principal consultant for NSC-ORC HSE – part of the Workplace Practice Area at the National Safety Council, said the term “competent person” can get confused with other terms used by OSHA, such as qualified, certified or authorized persons.

Qualified person: A person who – by education or experience – has successfully demonstrated the ability to solve or resolve problems related to a particular work or subject matter. Examples of qualified individuals are journeymen electricians or journeymen plumbers.

Certified person: An employee who has passed a certification exam from an accredited organization, such as a certified safety professional or certified industrial hygienist.

Authorized person: A person assigned by an employer to perform specific duties or to be at a specific location(s) on a jobsite.

Employers should communicate to their employees who the competent person is for a certain area/subject matter (fall protection, scaffolds, etc.). Cannon said employers can run into issues if, say, an OSHA inspector were to come onto their jobsite, ask for the competent person and hear the words, “I don’t know.” 

In construction, a subcontractor typically is responsible for identifying the competent person, and a general contractor should ensure each subcontractor has a competent person, if needed. 

“It’s the responsibility of the contractor or the employer to understand who should fulfill that position,” Cannon said. 

Lasavage recommends always designating a competent person and a backup, in the event the first competent person has to be away from the jobsite. 

An employer also may need a competent person in more than one subject. If a roofing company, for example, has a competent person in fall protection but also uses scaffolds, it would need to have a competent person in that area as well. 

An employee can be designated as a competent person for different topics if that person meets the qualifications, of course. That means employers need to learn and anticipate all of the areas and times when they may need a competent person. 

“OSHA is pretty clear when a competent person is required,” Cannon said. “It’s not buried in the preamble of some rule or whatnot. It’s clear when a competent person is required for any of the standards where it applies.”  

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