Choosing a Competent Person

It’s up to the employer to decide who has the knowledge and experience for the role.

pipeline excavation project

The “competent person” required by OSHA for certain types of work, such as trenching and excavation, performs a critical role on a jobsite and is instrumental in preventing accidents and injuries. When an employer designates someone a competent person, they are putting great trust in them and expecting them to shoulder a serious responsibility. 

Choosing the right person and getting him or her any additional training needed is essential. After all, the competent person isn’t there just to fulfill OSHA requirements but to protect workers day-to-day by spotting hazards that could put them in danger and taking immediate corrective action. 

So who qualifies? OSHA leaves it up to the employer to decide whether a person is capable of the job. It doesn’t spell out specific training requirements, only the type of knowledge the person needs. For example, in the case of trenching and excavation, OSHA stipulates that the person must be knowledgeable about soil analysis, the use of protective systems and the requirements of the 1926 subpart P standard. 

MasTec – Utility Services, a Florida-based infrastructure engineering and construction company that performs a large amount of trench and excavation work, uses a two-pronged approach to ensuring its competent persons have the knowledge they need. 

“We have elected to send safety professionals and training professionals to the United Rentals train the trainer programs,” said Jarrett Quoyle, senior director, safety & health. “That allows them to learn the material and keep updated on changes, and it allows us to train our own folks when needed.” 

Through internal training, said Quoyle, “We can not only cover the material but also insert our process and make the connection to how we do things or how we want to see things being done.” 

Of course, training isn’t everything. Field experience is a must. 

“In most cases, the competent persons are going to be those that have years of experience and have been through the testing, the assessments and the training. It doesn’t make any sense for us, or really any organization in my opinion, to take that brand-new person or someone new to the industry and say, ‘Here’s some training, you’re a competent person now,’” said Quoyle. 

The bottom line: Choose a competent person with care. Identify someone with the right experience, and provide training to fill any nowledge gaps.
“As an organization you want to be smart about it. We have to make sure that if we deem somebody a competent person — do they have the skillset? Have they been through our required curriculum? Do they have enough time in the field and experience to understand the intricacies of the requirements? If you don’t take that active role in determining who your competent people are, then I think you’re setting the organization up for failure.”

Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands. 

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