Who Is a Competent Person in the View of OSHA?

Competence in OSHA Terms, Requirements for Construction Assignments

Key Points

  • It is the employer’s responsibility, not OSHA’s, to determine competency
  • A competent person is one who can identify hazards and take steps to deal with them
  • Competency is subjective and situational
  • OSHA maintains strict standards in some areas, such as excavation

The Details

Dictionary definition of competency

What defines competence? A competent employee is much sought-after in the business world. According to OSHA standards, a competent person is one who “through training or experience is knowledgeable of the various Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards that apply to their workplace, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to their specific operations, and has the authority invested in him or her by their employer to correct the hazards to protect their workers.”

This definition of competence ensures that only those who are knowledgeable and aware of the compliance standards set by the administration. It is an employer’s chief responsibility, and not that of OSHA’s, to determine whether their construction workers are “competent” under this definition.

In a general sense, as defined by OSHA construction standards (see 29 CFR 1926.32(f)), a competent person is “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.” Under this definition it is clear that competent employees must maintain situational awareness and pay attention to their surroundings at all times.

Competency, however, is subjective. Just because an employer designates an employee as “competent” in one situation or work environment, does not necessarily guarantee a competence in all potential aspects of another job. An employee may be particularly competent at excavation or scaffolding, but may be incompetent at fall protection or fall arrest systems. OSHA Competence Standards help ensure that workers are ably educated in all aspects of their required job and its attendant hazards.

Various OSHA construction standards outline differing job responsibilities and levels of competence. Click here to view all of these standards. Many states in the U.S. maintain their own competence standards through OSHA, such as California’s Cal-OSHA plan, links are included below outlining several training course and educational programs for worker competence.

OSHA maintains very strict standards for certain on-site jobs, such as OSHA Excavation Standards, maintain a list of very specific requirements and on-the-job activities such as inspections and maintenance checks, to be performed by a worker deemed “competent” under the OSHA definition. However, some standards make only a passing reference to competence, and it is up to the employer to hold competent individuals accountable for their responsibilities. The OHSA Directives provide complete instructions for safety compliance officers, and the standard interpretations here offers official interpretations of the standards held by OSHA.