Checking on Competency

By Jason Godfrey, General Manager, Safesite Limited

We always stress that when employing someone to work at height, you need to ensure they are competent to do so.  But how do you know someone is competent?  If they’ve been doing a particular job for a number of years, or haven’t had an accident, does that mean they’re competent?

What is competency, and how can you check on it?

According to the HSE, when it comes to work at height, “competency is a combination of the experience, knowledge and appropriate qualifications that enables a worker to identify both the risks arising from a situation and the measures needed to deal with them. Individuals working at height need to be trained in the selected system of work and any particular work equipment chosen. For example, if a MEWP is selected then the operator must be trained in its use; if nets are used then the net riggers must be trained in how to erect them safely. Managers should check that those doing the work are adequately trained.”

Work at height is a specialised area of health & safety so it is important that you ensure you commission a competent company or person to assess the risks and carry out the work safely and in accordance with the work at height hierarchy.

Don’t take someone’s word for it that they are competent. “I’ve worked like this for years so I know what I’m doing,” or “I’ve never had an accident so I must be safe,” is not proof that they know what they’re doing. More often than not it’s down to pure luck, not competency, that they haven’t had an accident.

Competency can be demonstrated in a number of ways

In the case of the company, look for one that is a member of associations/institutes or affiliated to recognised industry bodies. This will mean that the company is kept up to date regularly by the association or group on important industry topics and updated on changes to legislation and standards that relate to their line of business, particularly their services and products.

Also check that the company is registered with a recognised assessment scheme such as CHAS, Constructionline and/or SAFEcontractor. At the moment there is a proliferation of health and safety and pre-qualification assessment schemes, but the benefit of such schemes is that every aspect of a company’s performance is vetted, including staff professionalism, training, products and services, environmental impact and health & safety record.

Health and safety accreditations

Finally, individual training. Always make sure that those carrying out the work have appropriate health & safety training and that it is up to date. This could include training on Work at Height, PPE, Ladders, Rescue, MEWPS, PASMA, First Aid, Asbestos Awareness, COSHH and Risk Assessor. According to best practice, and depending upon the topic, refresher training should be undertaken at least every 3 years. Always ask to see evidence of training certificates and any relevant industry card schemes such as CSCS or CCNSG before allowing people to work on your premises.

Double check

If you’re ever unsure about competency or are not happy with a company’s proposed methods of work, don’t proceed and seek professional advice. At the end of the day, it may cost you a little extra at the time, but that’s nothing compared to the cost of a prosecution.

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