Competence is the ability to undertake responsibilities and perform activities to a recognised standard on a regular basis. It combines practical and thinking skills, knowledge and experience. 

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) require an employer to appoint one or more competent people to help them implement the measures they need to take to comply with the legal requirements. That could be a member of the workforce, the owner/manager, or an external consultant. The competent person should focus on the significant risks and those with serious consequences.

The competence of individuals is vital, whether they are employers, managers, supervisors, employees and contractors, especially those with safety-critical roles (such as plant maintenance engineers). It ensures they recognise the risks in their activities and can apply the right measures to control and manage those risks. 

'Truly effective health and safety management requires competency across every facet of an organisation and through every level of the workforce.' The health and safety of Great Britain: Be part of the solution

What are you doing?

Health and safety responsibilities of managers/supervisors

Who fulfils the role of health and safety competent person?

External provider of competent advice

Does the organisation act upon advice from the competent person?

If there is an identified lack of competence in a particular area, what are you doing to deal with the problem?

How are staff selected for the tasks carried out?

Are arrangements in place to ensure staff are aware of roles and responsibilities?

Have you identified the training they need?

 Have you provided enough competent cover for absences?

Competence - what to look for

Use the following examples of effective and ineffective health and safety management to check if you are doing what you need to do on competence.

What it looks like when done effectively What it looks like when done badly or not at all
  • All know the risks created by the business and understand how to manage them.
  • Key responsible people/job holders are identified and there are clearly established roles and responsibilities.
  • People have the necessary training, skills, knowledge and experience to fulfil their responsibilities and are given enough time to do so.
  • Training takes place during normal working hours and employees are not charged.

 Beyond compliance

  • Lessons learned and good practice are shared internally and externally.
  • Lack of awareness of key hazards/risks.
  • People lack the skills, knowledge and experience to do their job.
  • Health and safety advice and training is irrelevant, incompetent or wrong.
  • No standards set; people not held accountable.
  • Insufficient action is taken to comply with the law.
  • Knee-jerk reactions follow incidents/near misses.
  • The organisation does not know what it needs to do to move forward.

Additional factors to consider

Smaller businesses

Larger organisations

Process industries

Updated: 2013-05-09