The Importance of Competence with Health and Safety

Having a competent Health and Safety (H&S) person is like having a solid foundation for your home. It is the basis for the effectiveness of your safety culture and accreditation. According to the Health and Safety Executive, “you must appoint a ‘competent person’ to meet your health and safety duties.”

What does it mean to be competent?

A competent person is ‘someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety.’ Depending on the scope of job duties and tasks, skills sets may need to vary. For example, someone handling scaffolding and fall from heights requires a different skill set than someone handling dangerous hazardous materials. The health and safety laws describe the specific skills and knowledge needed for specific tasks.

Good H&S person vs. Bad H&S person

The job duties surrounding H&S involves good organisational and office knowledge as well as good field experience. A safety person cannot spend all their time sitting behind the desk and completing paperwork. They must get out and walk their area of responsibility. They must engage with employees to ensure proper Personal Protective Equipment is being utilised and tasks are being completed safely. Sometimes a company can encounter a safety person who spends all their work hours in the office or all their time in the field. But a good H&S person is capable of balancing office paperwork and field time.
A competent safety person should also be involved with their program. They need to be proactive. The worst thing for a safety culture is for the H&S person to disengage and no longer care. This will have devastating effects on the employees and could result in possible injuries or unsafe work environments.

Knowledge vs. Experience

A competent H&S person must have a good mix of skills, experience and knowledge. Having great credentials on paper, does not mean they are a competent person. Experience can vary depending on the work environment. And the level of safety cultures encouraged by management can vary with each business. You need to make sure that your H&S person has knowledge, experience and skills at the level demanded by the work environment. The H&S person should be passionate about their job. They should constantly strive to expand their own personal development to be more effective. They should also encourage management to maintain a healthy safety culture committed to zero accidents and an impeccable safety standard carried out not only on paper but also in practice. Your H&S Person, in many ways, is the backbone of your safety culture, so you should make sure that this individual is strong enough to support the weight.