Do you know how to recognise competency?

‘Competency’ is a word that comes up often in discussions about work at height and construction in general. But what does it mean for you?

If you are the manager or owner of a premises (or the ‘client’ of a contractor), then it is your responsibility to ensure anyone carrying out risky work on those premises is competent and fully qualified to do that task, not the responsibility of contractors or the workers themselves.

According to the Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) regulations, implemented in 2007 to reduce accidents during construction projects via improved health and safety, those defined as clients have a duty to:

  • assemble a team of competent professionals and ensure that each of their roles are clear
  • allocate sufficient time and resources at each stage of the project to ensure that health and safety issues are dealt with properly
  • ensure effective project team communication
  • provide suitable welfare facilities throughout the construction period
  • make sure all involved have the skills, training and expertise to carry out the work

Under these new regulations clients are required to take responsibility and ensure that each phase of the construction process is planned so that it can be managed safely.

Though all of these points are vital in ensuring work is carried out safely, ‘competency’ is perhaps one of the most important, and the most vague for those responsible. You might be asking: how do I recognise competency?


Competency defined

One point to remember is long term experience is NEVER a signifier of competency. Just because somebody has been doing a job for a long time does not automatically mean they’ve been doing it competently, and as we’ve seen before, their luck can and will run out.

According to the HSE, 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.”

The HSE also states that “individuals working at height need to be trained in the selected system of work and any particular work equipment chosen,” and that managers should check that those doing the work are adequately trained.

This is even more important when work at height is involved, as this is a highly specialist task and requires the proper training. Anyone who does not have the correct accreditation and training should not be allowed onto site, because the blame will fall on you should things go awry.

Would you say these two are competent?


What can I do?

As we’ve already mentioned, those who oversee a site or premises, such as the site manager, will also be responsible for any work carried out on that site. If this is you, and you are lax in your diligence regarding contractors, you could end up in legal trouble, or worse, ruining lives.

But fear not, there are some simple checks you can make to meet your responsibilities and judge whether or not the contractors you hire are competent or not.

Only employ companies/contractors that are members of associations/institutes or affiliated to recognised industry bodies. This means the company will be kept up to date regularly on important industry topics, and updated on changes to legislation and standards that relate to their line of business, particularly their services and products.

Is the company registered with a recognised assessment scheme such as CHAS, Constructionline and/or SAFEcontractor? Membership of this scheme means that every aspect of the registered company's performance is vetted, including staff professionalism, training, products and services, environmental impact and health & safety record.

Do your best to ensure workers have had individual training. You should always aim to make sure that those carrying out the work have appropriate health & safety training and that it is up to date. Specific training you should look for includes:

  • Work at Height
  • PPE
  • Ladders
  • Rescue
  • First Aid
  • Asbestos Awareness
  • Risk Assessor

Refresher training should be undertaken at least every 3 years. You are well within your rights to ask to to see evidence of training certificates and any relevant industry card schemes such as CSCS before allowing people to work on your premises. Learn more about training here.

Remember: always ensure you stick to the work at height hierarchy when carrying out any work.

If at any point you are concerned about competency or a contractor’s practices, STOP WORK immediately and and instead seek professional advice. It could save you – and those on your site – from a world of pain.

For more information on training and accreditation schemes or competency, call us on 01293 529977, or use our online contact form.

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