The Buck Stops with the Competent Person

Worker SafetyOn a construction site, every worker is responsible for his or her own safety. But anyone can make careless mistakes, especially if they haven’t been trained properly — or the person in charge hasn’t been trained properly. Ultimately, the responsibility of keeping workers safe falls to what OSHA calls the designated “competent person” on site. Usually this person is the supervisor or superintendent, but it might be the foreman or another employee.

OSHA defines a competent person as someone who is:

  • capable of identifying existing and potential hazards in their surroundings, or
  • capable of identifying working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and
  • has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Yet OSHA does not have a specific standard regarding a competent person, which can cause some confusion. Let me explain.

A competent person is not necessarily someone who just attended a class or was arbitrarily given the title by his boss. Nor is it always the supervisor or foreman. Being named the competent person on a construction site is a legal obligation, and requires that person to be experienced in a specific area of expertise (ladder safety, for example), to have demonstrated their competence, and to have the authority to make safety-related changes when necessary.

If an OSHA inspector visits a site, one of his first questions is, “Who’s in charge?” Inspectors may or may not use the term “competent person,” but they may then question that person about his knowledge. Note that a large worksite with different operations going on at the same time — say, scaffolding work, masonry work, etc. — may require more than one competent person.

Certain types of work, including trenching and excavation, are dependent on these specialized employees because the highly technical nature, and inherent hazards, require a greater level of training and experience.

Supervisors, superintendents, and foremen need training not only in safety but also in how to train and manage workers and enforce safety standards. The importance of proper training for the people in charge cannot be overstated, since it sets the stage for the safety culture of the entire company.

Diversified Safety Services, a full-service occupational safety training and consulting firm, trains supervisors on how to keep their construction workers and sites safe. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

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