Who should be your OSHA competent person?

As most of us know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is the workplace governing body for the safety of workers in a variety of industries.

The thing that most of us do not know, is how to implement it. Most of the safety and health management systems do not know how that system works.

Why do workers get hurt?

We could agree on some of the following causes: uncontrolled hazard exposure, complacency, lack of knowledge, lack of leadership, and just doing stupid stuff.

Let us look at uncontrolled hazard exposure. A common lesson in safety and health management training is the concept of “what does it take to have an accident?” When a hazardous condition and an exposure exist without a barrier, we have a substantial risk of an injury.

Let’s look at an example

There is a construction site. The contractor is excavating the site to install an underground utility. The excavation is deeper than six feet. The excavation is a trench according to an OSHA definition. An OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) shows up unexpectedly to conduct a work site inspection. He names himself as an CSHO, shows his credentials and ask, “Who is in charge?” The contractor supervisor replies “I am.” The CSHO responds “I would like to go and see your trench?” The supervisor and CSHO walk toward the open trench. On the way the CSHO ask the following question: “What type of soil do you have?” The supervisor, in a noticeably confident tone, replies “Oh, that’s good soil!” Guess what? Wrong answer. The inaccurate reply gives the CSHO the evidence he needs to document a citation and notes it in is inspection file. The citation: no competent person on site.

The importance of having an OSHA competent person on site

Why is the soil analysis important? Soil is unpredictable and hazardous. Especially if a worker is in the deep trench without a suitable protective system. If there is no protective system, the worker is exposed to a cave in. A cubic yard of class C soil can weigh on average 2500 lb. Who is responsible under OSHA regulations for identifying the soil type and hazard it creates and implementing that protective system? The competent person.

The OSHA Excavation and Trenching construction standard requires that all excavations have a competent person assigned to it to find hazards that could harm a worker and have the authorization to take prompt corrective actions to control that hazard exposure. This is a management responsibility.

In fact, the OSHA library of workplace standards for employers contain over one hundred requirements for the presence of a competent person.

What is the definition of an OSHA competent person?

The term “Competent Person” is used in many OSHA standards and documents. An OSHA “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 authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them” [29 CFR 1926.32(f)].

According to an OSHA directive, the CSHO will assess a competent person using an interview process. Questions the CSHO could use: What type of training and/or experience do they have, are they knowledgeable of applicable standards, are they capable of finding workplace hazards relating to the specific operation and finally do they have the authority to correct them. Some standards add more specific requirements which must be met.

The following is more information from a specific OSHA letter of interpretation:

“For the purposes of OSHA’s safety and health standards for the construction industry, “competent person” is defined in 29 CFR 1926.32(f) 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 authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” This definition is further clarified in the preamble for the rulemaking on excavations (FR 54 45909) issued on October 31, 1989. That preamble states that what constitutes a “competent person” depends on the context in which the term is used. In order to be a “competent person” for the purposes of the excavation standard, one must have specific training in, and be knowledgeable about, soils analysis, the use of protective systems, and the requirements of the excavation standard. One who does not have this training or knowledge is not considered by OSHA to be capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in excavation work nor capable of taking the necessary corrective measures. By contrast, a “qualified” person or engineer, as defined in 1926.32(l), might have more technical expertise, but would not necessarily have expertise in hazard recognition or the authority to correct identified hazards.”

A Safe Workplace is Sound Business

As an employer, you must ensure that you have a safe workplace for your workers. It is a moral and humanistic approach to business. To ensure your company is managing risk across the board, you need to make sure your workers are safe in every aspect of the workplace. Incidents can and do happen. The prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses is the mission of OSHA and should be one of the core values an organization respects.

You need to use a proactive approach to managing your workplace safety. Many times, it is not addressed until after the fact. Accidents on the job or in operating heavy equipment have caused injuries or fatalities.

One of the best ways to address issues before they escalate is to train and educate each worker to become a competent person according to the OSHA definition and on the specific OSHA regulations.

So, who will be your competent person?

For more information check out https://www.osha.gov/competent-person

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