Competent help when you need it

words: Simon Bloxham, Safety for Business
Simon Bloxham

As an employer, you must appoint a competent person or people to help you meet your health and safety legal duties.

What does a competent person do?

They should have the skills, knowledge and experience to be able to recognise hazards in your business and help you put sensible controls in place to protect workers and others from harm.

Qualifications and training

It’s not usually essential for in-house personnel to have formal qualifications and they’re not required by law to have formal training, although it can help, and I would always advise that they are trained for their role.  

Who you can appoint

You could appoint (one or a combination of):

  • Yourself
  • One or more of your workers
  • Someone from outside

Usually, managing health and safety isn’t complicated and you can do it yourself with the help of your workers. You know your workplace best and the risks associated with it.

Using a consultant or adviser

If your business or organisation doesn’t have the competence to manage health and safety in-house, you can get help from a consultant or adviser. But remember, as the employer, managing health and safety will still be your legal duty.

Getting the right help

You must make sure the consultant or adviser you use is competent and suitable. It’s not uncommon for employers to spend a lot on advice that doesn’t help them comply with health and safety law, so it pays to source good quality guidance.

Make sure they:

  • Have evidence of relevant training and knowledge, such as formal qualifications or practical experience of providing advice in your industry or area of work
  • Are adequately insured

Establishing what help you need

A consultant should help you to better manage health and safety for yourself. Unless you’re clear about what you need, you probably won’t get the right help. Ask yourself if you need help with:

  • Health and safety management across the business
  • Putting things in place to control risks
  • Checking and maintaining control measures
  • Explaining clearly what you need and asking them to confirm what they’ll do and when they’ll do it

If you just need a one-off visit to enable you to manage health and safety in-house, be clear at the outset to avoid tying yourself to a long contract.

Their advice should:

  • Be specific to the risks in your workplace – generic advice often fails to identify and control key risks, and it can be difficult to identify risks unless they visit your workplace
  • Be based on their knowledge and experience of your industry and processes
  • Concentrate on practical action to control significant risks, not over-respond to trivial risks
  • Recommend control measures that are reasonably practicable
  • Not generate paperwork for the sake of it

Make sure they’ll provide a proper handover to help explain the key risks and controls recommended.

If you do not think they’ve provided you with a practical, sensible solution to your problem, ask for an explanation and see if there’s a simpler alternative.

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