Blog post

Competence in health and safety

Employers must ensure that any individual performing a task has the competence to do so without putting the health and safety of themselves or others at significant risk.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) describe competence as “the combination of training, skills, experience and knowledge that a person has and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. Other factors, such as attitude and physical ability, can also affect someone’s competence.”

Competence in Health and safety is vital when carrying out workplace activities, not an add-on or afterthought. Someone’s level of competence should be appropriate to their job and place of work. You would not need, for example, the same health and safety competence to work in an office as you would on a construction site.

Employers should take into account the competence of employees when conducting risk assessments. This will help to decide what level of information, instruction, training and supervision will be needed.

‘The essence of competence is relevance to the workplace. What matters is that there is a proper focus on both the risks that occur most often and those with serious consequences.

Competence is the ability for every director, manager and worker to recognise the risks in operational activities and then apply the right measures to control and manage those risks.’

Judith Hackitt, HSE’s Chair

Employers must appoint a ‘competent person’ to help meet health and safety duties. This is someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety. In some industries or work environments, health and safety law describes the specific training, skills and experience that an individual should have to qualify as a competent person for a specific task.

The development of a competency framework can assist in managing this key element. A well-developed health and safety competency framework that defines the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviours can be invaluable.

Employers need to ensure that the competence performance levels required are being met and that any information, instruction, training or supervision provided has been effective in terms of enabling such performance to be undertaken in this critical area. A framework can define and monitor this in a reportable and structured manner.

The HSE provide a range of guidance, including information about competence for specific industries or work environments. Visit the HSE website for more information.