Whether you are an employer looking to secure your regulatory compliance with health and safety regulations in the UK, or you are in a health and safety manager role, you may have come across the legal term “competent person” and you might be wondering about its meaning and how it applies to your job and responsibilities. 

Below, we’ll look at what a competent person is, the official definition of the term, as well as who can do the job and how it impacts compliance, especially in the fire safety context. Read along to find out more. 

Competent Person Definition & The UK Law

The definition of a competent person, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is someone who has “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly.” 

What this means is that anyone can be considered a competent person as long as they can possess all three of the following:

  • Sufficient theoretical knowledge of all regulatory standards applicable to your industry 
  • Can confidently identify hazards in the workplace, including those specific to a certain type of operation or machinery 
  • Has the ability to propose corrective measures to adequately control and manage the risks that have been identified

Who Can Be A Competent Person In Fire Safety?

As mentioned above, anyone who fits all three of the criteria in the previous section can be considered a “competent person” at their respective workplace. The key is that they have both a solid level of theoretical knowledge and the practical, technical skills to be considered an expert in the dangers associated with a particular type of work, as well as the ways to fix them. 

In the context of fire safety, this could be an appointed fire safety manager, an employee who has been given the necessary fire safety training to perform the above functions or a third-party service provider who can be hired to act as a competent person. 

Either way, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that a competent person has been selected and that they match the necessary qualifications and criteria to satisfy the legal requirements. 

For further guidance on the meaning of the term competent person and their responsibilities in an occupational health setting, you can refer to The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

What Does A Competent Person Do?

The responsibility of the competent person, therefore, is to make sure that all employees, visitors, members of the public and any third parties that may be present in the workplace are protected from all reasonably foreseeable occupational hazards. 

The competent person is appointed to help the employer who is considered a “responsible person” under the UK law and regulations to achieve regulatory compliance with all relevant legislation and standards applicable to the industry they work in. 

In practice, the competent person should be able to conduct risk assessments and inspections on a regular basis during which they would utilise their knowledge, experience and technical skills to identify risks in the workplace. They would also be able to classify the level of risk, identify who could be addicted and propose measures for mitigating these hazards. 

In the context of fire safety, the competent person would be able to perform specific fire risk assessments on a regular basis or as required by the employer in special circumstances. 

Do I Have To Appoint A Competent Person?

If you are an employer, you will need to find a competent person to help you ensure your health and safety practices are compliant with the relevant rules and regulations. 

This is specifically detailed under Regulation 7 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which states the following: 

“Every employer shall, subject to paragraphs (6) and (7), appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions and by Part II of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997.”

The regulations continue by also establishing the fact that all communication with the competent person must be coordinated by the employer to ensure that they have access to all information and resources needed to perform their duties as a competent person. 

If you fail to appoint a qualified competent person or to manage their work as described, this would be considered a breach of your legal duties and can lead to prosecution. Then, if you are found to have failed to comply with the law, the relevant regulatory authority could impose significant fines on you. In cases where a serious incident has occurred as a result of non-compliance, this could even result in a prison sentence.

Competent Person Vs. Qualified Person

A qualified person is someone who has formal qualifications, such as a recognised certificate or a degree to deal with certain workplace issues and occupational hazards. In some cases, the competent person can also be a qualified person who can help you design specific technical measures to control certain risks. 

In some situations, however, where the risks involved may be particularly technical, it may be necessary to hire a specialist as your qualified person in order to provide the competent person with enough support and information to complete their duties. This should be something that is agreed upon between you, as the employer, and the competent person you have appointed. 

An employer could also arrange for a competent person in-house to undergo the necessary additional training to gain the official qualifications they require to perform their duties correctly. Whichever approach you choose to use, it’s important to keep in mind the final goal – to ensure everyone is safe at work. 

Fire Safety Training & Risk Assessment In The West Midlands 

Looking to train a competent person within your organisation or hire a competent person to do a fire safety inspection for you? Cardinal Fire offers fire safety training courses for employees, as well as a professional fire risk assessment service delivered by qualified fire safety engineers. 

For more information on our services across the West Midlands, speak to our team today on 0845 130 8211 or email us at sales@cardinalfire.net