Health and Safety Competent Person FAQ
If you're an employer, or responsible for health and safety within an organisation, you've likely come across the term 'competent person'.
It’s something you’ll hear a lot in discussion about health and safety, but what exactly does it mean? Do you need one? What skills make a person competent? Who can take on this role if nobody within your organisation fits the bill? And what are the responsibilities associated with it?
Nick Wilson, Director of Health & Safety Services at Ellis Whittam, answers some of the questions employers often have about the competent person requirement in health and safety.
Ellis Whittam: Your legally-required competent person
Looking for a professional to act as your competent person? Few health and safety companies are prepared to take on this important responsibility. At Ellis Whittam, we’re so confident in the expertise of our consultants and the quality of our service that we’ll adopt this role, sharing responsibility for your compliance with you and supporting your health and safety compliance as a trusted extension of your team.
What is a competent person?
Put simply, a competent person helps to ensure an organisation complies with health and safety law and takes all reasonable steps to keep people from harm. This will be an individual who has the ability to recognise the hazards associated with a particular task or within your work environment and identify sensible and proportionate solutions.
The meaning of competent person can be found in Regulation 7 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This 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’. This isn’t exactly clear-cut, and for employers, such broad criteria often poses more questions than answers.
Ellis Whittam provides competent person support to Bluestone Resorts
Do I need to appoint a competent person?
Every organisation must have access to help from a competent person to enable it to meet the requirements of health and safety law. This is an explicit requirement under Regulation 7 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The requirement to have a competent person(s) to support your organisation applies to all employers, regardless of size or sector. Whether you employ one person or several thousand, whether you’re a low-risk office-based business, a high-risk manufacturing business or a charity, you must appoint a suitable individual to take on this role.
What does the role of competent person involve?
Employers must comply with all relevant health and safety laws and regulations – a legal duty which cannot be delegated or transferred to anyone else. However, most business owners aren’t health and safety experts, which is why the law requires employers to appoint somebody to assist them.
The purpose of the competent person, therefore, is to utilise their knowledge, skills and experience to help you comply with all relevant rules and regulations and ultimately ensure the health and safety of your workers, customers, visitors and anyone else who may be affected by your activities.
Who can be your designated competent person?
Your competent person must be capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions and have authorisation to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
When deciding whether an individual can be considered ‘competent’, ask the following questions:
Not to be confused with…
The requirement to appoint a competent health and safety person should not be confused with the competent person registration scheme that applies to installers to certify that their building work complies with the Building Regulations for England. This is something entirely different.
There's nobody internally who meets the criteria. Can I appoint somebody who doesn’t work here?
Yes. The HSE explains that if you’re not confident in your ability to manage your health and safety responsibilities in-house, or if you are a higher-risk business, you can appoint an external professional as a source of support and competent health and safety advice.
If you’re unsure whether your in-house health and safety person is truly competent, it’s always best to air on the side of caution. To make sure you’ve really got this role covered, you will need to tick all the boxes for training, experience and knowledge, which is why thousands of organisations across the UK turn to Ellis Whittam, as we not only give them confidence in their compliance but also take the pressure off day to day through unlimited, fixed-fee support.
Is a competent person the same as a ‘competent adviser’?
In a word, no. Often, health and safety companies aren’t prepared to stick their necks on the line by taking on the role of your competent person and will instead position themselves as ‘competent advisers’, which is a fabricated term that doesn’t offer the same level of protection for your organisation. If in doubt, don’t chance it – make sure the person or company responsible for your compliance has the best qualifications and relevant experience of implementing effective health and safety systems.
Can we be prosecuted if we don’t have access to a competent person?
Yes. Failure to appoint a competent person can lead to a prosecution for breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which can in turn lead to intervention by your regulatory authority, fines, or, in cases where the consequences of a breach were exteme, even imprisonment.