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What is competence?

Competence can be described 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.

As an employer, you should take account of the competence of relevant employees when you are conducting your risk assessments. This will help you decide what level of information, instruction, training and supervision you need to provide.

Competence in Health and safety should be seen as an important component of workplace activities, not an add-on or afterthought.

If you use contractors, you have a responsibility to make sure they are competent. For guidance on this, look at using contractors: A brief guide and managing contractors: A guide for employers.

Someone’s level of competence only needs to be proportionate 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.

Judith Hackitt, HSE’s Chair said:

‘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.’

Competent person

As an employer, you must appoint a ‘competent person’ to help you meet your health and safety duties.

A competent person is not someone who simply has the competence to carry out a particular task safely. In general terms, the definition of a competent person is someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety. For more details on appointing a competent person, go to - Decide who will help you with your duties.

Some health and safety law describes the training, skills and experience, that someone should have to be a competent person to perform a specific task in a particular industry or work environment.

A range of HSE guidance, including information that will help you to understand the competence required to work in specific industries or work environments, can be found here - industry-specific guidance.

Information on the competence required for different industries and work activities can also be found at the National Occupational Standards website or at the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils website.

Updated: 2015-05-21