How Does OSHA Define a Competent Person?
OSHA requires all construction employers to have at least one competent person on every job site. There's a joke in there somewhere, right? But seriously, on the face of it, that standard sounds straightforward. Most of your employees are competent (by general definition) or they wouldn't be your employees. So you can just say your foreman is in charge and you're done. Right? Unfortunately not. If you do that, you run the risk of failing an OSHA inspection. They define the term Competent Person (CP) in a very particular way, and they'll expect your designated CP(s) to demonstrate that they qualify. You have to select your CP(s) deliberately and take measures to ensure they're prepared to pass inspection. Beyond the demands of OSHA, your CP plays a crucial role in job safety and supervision. It can't just be a pro forma title.
What is a Competent Person?OSHA defines a Competent Person as "one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them" [29 CFR 1926.32(f)]. In other words, a Competent Person has two important qualities:
- The knowledge to recognize a hazard, AND
- The authority to correct it
- "Authorized," which means you (the employer) have approved or assigned an employee to perform a specific duty or be in a specific area.
- "Qualified," which means that, by education or experience, an employee has demonstrated the ability to solve problems relating to a particular job.
- "Certified," which means an employee has passed certification exams from an accredited organization for the work they're going to perform.
What Activities Require a Competent Person?Some discreet work activities (like excavations and scaffolding) explicitly require a CP under OSHA regs. However, any and all construction activity has to proceed under the supervision of a qualified CP.
How Many CPs Do You Need on a Job Site?The number of Competent Person(s) you need on a job site will vary by its size, complexity, and the available experience of your workforce. You can have a single CP on-site, as long as they have the knowledge and authority for all activities being performed. You can also have multiple CPs covering separate activities.
How Does Someone Prove They're a Competent Person?Although OSHA has no extensively spelled-out standards for proving that someone is competent, your CP will be tested during an inspection. To test whether a Competent Person exists, OSHA will:
- Ask on-site employees who the CP is for a particular task, to check if it's widely known
- Evaluate the CP's knowledge of relevant OSHA standards and their ability to identify a hazard
- Check whether they have the level of authority required to make a change