Who’s in Charge? OSHA’s Requirements for the Competent Person

istock-construction-worker-676When 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 the term competent person is used in many OSHA standards and documents. As we reported early last year, usually this person is the supervisor or superintendent, but it also might be the foreman or another employee.

It is important to note that while an expert on a job site may qualify as a competent person skill-wise, he or she must also have the authority to make safety-related changes when necessary to qualify as a competent person.

OSHA defines a competent person as someone who is:

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

While OSHA does not have a specific standard regarding a competent person, there are still some legal obligations for the person who fills this position. Some standards add additional specific requirements that must be met by the 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. Large worksites with different operations going on at the same time — scaffolding work, masonry work, etc. — may require more than one competent person.

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.

The three most important things to remember when designating a competent person is to choose someone who has experience in a specific area of expertise (scaffolding, for example), has demonstrated competence, and to has the authority to make safety-related changes when necessary.

In summary, there is more to holding the title of Competent Person than may be apparent at first glance. Make sure your construction site stays compliant by keeping a competent person qualified and empowered to make safety decisions. For all your construction safety questions, contact Diversified Safety Services.

[29 CFR 1926.32(f)].

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