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RR877 - A commentary on routes to competence in the construction sector

The health and safety record of the UK construction sector is a prime focus of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), combining as it does high fatality and injury rates with relatively high rates of work-related ill-health. Persuasive proof of the link between competence and health and safety is difficult to demonstrate but, nevertheless, 'competence' has been central to improving the sector’s health and safety performance since the late 1980s.

The key questions of this research are whether current routes to competence - qualifications (both work-based and college-based), short courses, safety passport courses, competent person development, as well as on-the-job mentoring and general experience - are adequate for the sector, and whether our understanding of what makes a construction worker 'competent', in the deepest health and safety sense, remains sufficiently robust for current-day needs.

Competence is evidenced directly by competence-based qualifications or indirectly by a plethora of card and passport schemes.

The research highlights other safety-critical industries that require 'job competence', enhanced health and safety awareness, and, critically, 'human factors'. It concludes that the industry's current understanding of 'competence' may warrant extension to develop an 'industry-specific' definition and broadening to encompass both situational awareness and the sustaining of appropriate behaviours.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2011-05-26