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What is a Competent Person?

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 employers are required to appoint one or more competent persons to assist them in ensuring that they comply with their legal duties in relation to managing health and safety in the workplace.

The Regulations state that people appointed as competent persons must have "sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities" to enable them to be able to effectively assist the employer. The Health and Safety Executive expands on this by stating that it is not just an employee who can work safely themselves but is "someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety". Probably the most important element of competence for an individual employee or manager is knowing the extent of their own knowledge & skills, and therefore when they should seek help..

In an ideal world schools and colleges would have staff already in their employment who could fulfill the entire role of competent person. This generally is not the case due to the complexity of hazards present (see What risks are present in schools and colleges? for further information on the range of hazards) and a lack of understanding about establishing and maintaining safety management systems. It is therefore likely that they will need to either directly employ a specialist health and safety professional or source an external heath and safety advisory service to ensure that they have access to the required level of competence.

There are a number of health and safety professional associations in the UK. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is the only health and safety body to have chartered status. IOSH has several different levels of membership. The highest indicator of an individual's competence within its membership structure is chartered member status (chartered member [CMIOSH] and chartered fellow [CFIOSH]). Note: CFIOSH does not infer greater competence than CMIOSH, it is a recognition of personal input into the profession as a whole. For further information on IOSH and its membership grades please see Useful links.