Who is a Competent Person and their Role in Excavation Safety and Fall Protection

We often hear the term “competent person” about safety protocols. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration particularly allocates responsibility to workers in the capacity of competent persons for certain work operations and for examining and confirming safety protocols. Hence, many OSHA safety standards and other regulatory documents refer to the term “competent person”, requiring a need for employers and employees to understand the term to allocate responsibility to comply with OSHA standards and regulations.

Who is a Competent Person?

According to OSHA, a “competent person is defined as one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them" [29 CFR 1926.32(f)].”

OSHA goes on to explain that a competent person gains knowledge through appropriate education and training, and field experience. Thus, a competent person would be knowledgeable about the applicable safety standards for specific types of works (for example, excavation operations, erection of scaffolding, safe work practices to ensure fall protection, work operations using hazardous or toxic substances like asbestos, etc.). A competent person would also have the capability to identify workplace hazards relating to specific operations and the authority to correct them.

Several OSHA standards specify added requirements to be fulfilled by a competent person. Refer to this link for the complete list of OSHA Standards that specify the requirements that a competent person must fulfill.