What Does It Mean to Be a Competent Person According to OSHA?

What does it mean to be a competent person according to OSHA? Are your workers competent? The answers to these questions aren’t clearly defined but OSHA gives us a better idea of where our thoughts on this matter should be. The general idea of competency is defined as having the required ability, skill and knowledge to do something. There are countless employers who state they have competent employees or are competent themselves. However, the term ‘competent’ may not necessarily equate to experience or the ability to make altering decisions on the job site.  The ambiguity behind the term has been commonly misunderstood and defined at various standards.

According to OSHA, the term extends beyond acknowledging someone with the title. Even though OSHA does not give specified standards as to what a competent individual may be, OSHA construction standards define this term as an employee who can perceive hazards within a given task and has the ability to alleviate those issues. Phil Colleran, a safety consultant specializing in construction and a former OSHA compliance officer states “it’s a fairly misunderstood term.” Contrary to common belief, formal training and attending classes is not a prerequisite to being competent.

Why Is This Important? 

Should you be lucky enough to have your site audited by an OSHA inspector the first question they will ask is “Who is the competent person on this site?” If you have not delegated prior to this audit a designated “competent person” that will be your first of many fines.

What Does It Mean to Be a Competent Person According to OSHA?

The Implications and Applications of Insights

A competent employee is likely to assess and properly mitigate emerging hazards. An employee that could not do this would not be considered competent. Although employers send their employees to train through courses and classes, there is an immense difference between understanding a broad spectrum of scenarios and having a hands on situational approach experience. The difference is defined by the individual’s skills and their capability to identify hazards associated with distinct operations. Simply put, competency is not exclusively knowledge but the application of it.

The Appropriate Person

A large worksite may require several competent individuals who are specialized in their own areas of expertise. But why not have someone that is specialized in multiple areas? One having deep knowledge and experience in all fields is unlikely. Even if one has the experience encompassing all aspects of the worksite, an employee who specializes in one area is able to properly assess, diagnose and take the necessary steps to handling a diverse array of situations. 


Utilizing employees who are competent is key to decreasing errors and recognizing hazards. Speak with one of our highly experienced and competent Risk Advisors today!