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What is a 'Competent Person' and does my business need one?

Photo shows two workers looking at blueprintsEven the smallest businesses have the legal responsibility to manage health and safety at work and are mandated to appoint a competent person to take ownership of fulfilling this obligation.

The definition of a competent person

A competent person does not have to be a qualified and dedicated health and safety professional, but they do need to demonstrate sufficient competence in this area to be able to perform their duties effectively. If you have a small number of employees and operate in a low-risk environment (e.g. an office) then it may be feasible for you to appoint a competent person from within your business, however, even in this situation, there are advantages to using external competent advisors and those with more than a very small number of staff and/or those who work in a higher-risk environment, could benefit greatly from employing the services of external professionals.

Dedicated expertise at your disposal

As the old saying goes - Jack of all trades, master of none. In other words, the more roles someone has to fulfill, the less time they can give to each of them and, as a result, the less proficient they will be at any of them. Translating this into practical terms, if you just tack health-and-safety duties onto a person’s existing role then you risk compromises being made in their performance of either or both roles.

The obvious solution to this is to provide them with adequate time to perform both roles, however, while this is an improvement, the fact still remains that someone who is not dedicated to health and safety is highly unlikely to develop the same level of skills, knowledge and experience as someone who is. As a minimum, therefore, you may wish to think seriously about having at least some level of external support upon which to call if needed.

It’s also worth noting that if you use a member of staff as your competent person, then you will shoulder the risk of their leaving the organization, whereas if you employ an external company it will be their responsibility to ensure that you continue to receive the agreed service.

Choosing the right partner

The process for choosing the right external competent advisor is, essentially, much the same as the process for choosing any other vendor. It will depend partly on objective criteria such as the type of support they can provide, via what channel(s) and at what cost and partly on subjective criteria, such as their reputation and how comfortable you feel about dealing with them.

When you draw up your specifications for choosing a vendor, it is highly recommended to list indemnity insurance as an absolute non-negotiable. As always, remember that there is a difference between price and value and generally speaking it is usually best to focus on the latter. This is arguably particularly true in the context of health and safety as failings can not only lead to legal issues but also to reputational damage which, in itself, can prove fatal for a company.


Author Bio
Peter Scully is a marketing consultant for Watson and Watson, health, safety and fire risk consultants based in the UK.

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