Health and Safety Competent Person FAQ

You’ll hear this term a lot in a discussion about health and safety. 

What skills are required? What are the responsibilities associated with it? Nick Wilson, Ellis Whittam’s Director of Health & Safety Services, has prepared a simple FAQ on the subject of competent person in health and safety. You can discover more about the role in our Competent Person FAQ PDF document.

In case you weren’t aware, we are so confident in the strength of our health and safety support, Ellis Whittam can perform the role of Competent Person for you. 

Please get in touch with us if you’d like to talk in more detail about this and what it means for your organisation.

What is the definition of a Competent Person?

First, the technical bit. The meaning of competent person can be found in Regulation 7 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The law states that “Every employer shall, subject to paragraphs (6) and (7), appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions and by Part II of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997.”

…That’s a bit vague!

Yes, unfortunately it is, and it gets worse. The legislation goes on to say that a person shall be regarded as ‘competent’ if they have sufficient training, experience or knowledge and ‘other qualities’, which still leaves a lot of questions unanswered for worried employers.

Ellis Whittam provides Competent Person support to Bluestone Resorts

A person shall be regarded as “competent” if they have sufficient training, experience or knowledge and ‘other qualities’.

Who does this apply to?

The requirement to have a Competent Person(s) to support your organisation applies to every single employer. It doesn’t matter if you employ one person or several thousand, or whether you’re an accountant or zoo keeper. There are no exceptions.

What does the Competent Person actually do?

As an employer, you are required to comply with all relevant health and safety legislation, a legal responsibility which cannot be delegated or passed on to anyone else. The purpose of the Competent Person is to use their knowledge, understanding and expertise to assist you with complying with those rules and regulations.  

Who can be the Competent Person?

Ask the following questions:

  • Has the identified individual had training? Perhaps an IOSH-accredited course.
  • Does that person have practical knowledge? In other words, just attending a theory course is not enough.
  • Do they have the appropriate skills? They need the technical ability to develop solutions to problems.
  • Do they have practical experience? You won’t get away with appointing a school leaver on their first day.
  • Are they familiar with the business? If work is being performed on scaffolding, they must be knowledgeable about scaffolding hazards.
  • Do they have good awareness? They need to be alert enough to recognise hazards.
  • Have they been given authority? They need to be able to immediately correct any hazards, or be able to influence someone who can.

Not to be confused with…

Make sure not to confuse a competent health and safety person with the competent person registration scheme that applies to installers to certify that their building work complies with the Building Regulations for England. That’s something entirely different.

I don’t have anyone suitable. Is it OK to appoint someone who doesn’t work here?

For this part of competent person, the HSE offers good advice here: if you are not confident of your ability to manage all health and safety in-house, or if you are a higher-risk business, you may need some external help or advice.

If you really want to make sure you’ve got this covered, you need to tick all the boxes for training, experience and knowledge, which amounts to having a health and safety professional on hand. The fact that Ellis Whittam has the sufficient qualifications and experience to act as a client’s Competent Person is one of the top reasons so many employers choose us.

business owner being competent person

You’ll struggle to find another Health & Safety services provider who is confident enough in their expertise to act your competent person, often getting by with ‘competent advisers’, which won’t offer you the same level of protection. Don’t chance it – make sure the person responsible for your compliance has the best qualifications and proven experience of implementing effective health and safety systems.

Can we be prosecuted if we don’t have one?

Yes. Failure to appoint a Competent Person can lead to a prosecution for breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and a breach can lead to intervention by your regulatory authority, fines or (in cases with the most severe consequences) even imprisonment.

Let Ellis Whittam be your Competent Person