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 authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them”

A misunderstanding about the competent person on a construction site is that he/she is the person having the most knowledge of the work activity being performed or the person who has attended training. This may not always be the case. Completion of a competent person safety course alone does not necessarily establish an individual as a competent person. The course may not adequately provide comprehensive instruction to meet the knowledge requirement for a specific work activity definition.

Below is a partial listing of OSHA standards that require a competent person to perform specific functions:

  • 1926.20(b)(1) – General safety and health provisions.
  • 1926.101 – Hearing protection.
  • 1926.251 – Rigging equipment for material handling.
  • 1926.451 – Scaffolds – General requirements.
  • 1926.452 – Scaffolds – Training requirements.
  • 1926.500 – Fall protection.
  • 1926.502 – Fall protection systems criteria and practices.
  • 1926.503 – Training requirements.
  • 1926.552 – Material hoists, personnel hoists, and elevators.
  • 1926.650 – Excavation.
  • 1926.651 – Specific excavation requirements.
  • 1926.652 – Requirements for protective systems.
  • 1926.753 – Steel erection – hoisting and rigging.
  • 1926.1053 – Ladders.
  • 1926.1400 – Cranes and derricks in construction.

Competent person violations were part of OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited serious violations in construction in 2019.

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The Onsite Competent Person

One of the most common misconceptions about designating a Competent Person on a construction site is the person with the most knowledge of the activity being performed, or the person who has attended training should be the Competent Person. In fact, that individual may or may not be the best person for the job. There are other factors that must be considered when making this designation. Also, this designation should not be confused with that of a qualified person.

OSHA defines “Qualified” as one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, has successfully demonstrated the ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work or the project. A Competent Person observes specific job activities and is responsible for assuring that the work is performed safely. However, a certificate or card alone does not automatically make a person “competent.” The Competent Person must:

  • Be capable of identifying all workplace hazards relating to the specific operation (considering your particular type of work, process, equipment, tools, etc.)
  • Be designated by the employer. The task is often assigned to a foreman or supervisor, but anyone can be designated as a Competent Person if they have the proper training and experience. In most cases, the safety duties assigned to the Competent Person are in addition to his or her normal duties on the jobsite. However, on some large projects, being the Competent Person can be a full-time job.
  • Have authority to take appropriate actions to provide a safe workplace, correct unsafe conditions and stop work.

OSHA standards require a Competent Person to be at the work site performing or observing certain tasks. Companies are often cited by OSHA because they don’t have a Competent Person overseeing activities onsite. Below is a partial listing of OSHA standards that require a Competent Person to perform specific functions:

  • Excavating and Trenching
  • Fall Protection (scaffolds, ladders, stairways)
  • Hearing Protection (noise measurement)
  • Material Handling (rigging equipment, cranes and derricks)
  • Material Hoists, Personnel Hoists and Elevators
  • Concrete and Masonry Construction (lift-slab operations)
  • Steel Erection (bolting, riveting, fitting-up and plumbing-up)
  • Demolition (preparatory operations)
  • Blasting
  • Lead and Asbestos Handling

A Competent Person is a key individual on every jobsite. Their inspection and guidance are for your protection and safety. Respect and listen to them. It could save your life.

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