The importance of a competent person and health and safety expert

Running a business is hard work. Too often, employers, caught up in other matters of importance, can become lenient when it comes to the health and safety of its workforce. Aside from a moral duty to care for and protect those that turn the wheels of an organisation, there is a legal requirement (discussed below), as well as a financial motivation to do so: in 2018/2019, the total cost of workplace self-reported injuries and ill health was £16.2 billion. Injury accounted for 34% (£5.6 billion) of the total sum.

Tragically, in the UK the following year, 142 workers were killed at work. 65,427 injuries to employees were reported in 2019/2020, and 38.8 million workdays were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury.

Covid-19 has forced the hands of many businesses to ensure that health and safety measures are being properly met, but this should be a given at any time. Hiring a competent person or a health and safety expert can keep injuries, fatalities, and ill-health down to a minimum, thus ensuring the general happiness and safety of the workforce and limiting company liability (which can result in fines or even imprisonment).

Here’s why you need one.

What is a competent person?

A competent person is one who has the skills, knowledge, and experience to recognise potential hazards in your business and help put measures in place to mitigate them, thus keeping workers and others from harm. They help an organisation comply with health and safety laws and take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the people within. Often, accidents are avoidable, and having a competent health and safety expert, trained to perceive dangers in the workplace that may otherwise go unnoticed, can help reduce the number of accidents that occur.

Can you be prosecuted if you don’t have access to a competent person?

Yes. Having a competent person(s) in your workplace is a legal requirement. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that “every employer shall… 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.

Failure to appoint a competent person, or persons, can lead to prosecution for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, which can in turn lead to intervention by your regulatory authority, fines, or in worst cases, imprisonment. In Britain in 2020, for instance, Han Rao was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence after one of his workers was crushed to death while working four years earlier.

What to look for when hiring a health and safety expert

A competent person’s aim is to achieve and maintain a safe working environment while helping your organisation comply with health and safety laws and regulations. Experience is key; and experience in the sector your business operates in can put you at ease that you have employed the right person.

For instance, if you work in the medical sphere, hiring a health and safety expert whose background is in, say, crowd control at public events, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So it can be wise and indeed strongly advised to train up a current member of staff in the position of health and safety expert, since they know the company better than a new starter.

Using a consultant or adviser

This may be necessary if your business is complex, large-scale, or high risk. Consultants or advisers are even recommended by the official UK government website, which is keen to reaffirm that “… as the employer, managing health and safety will still be your legal duty.” Therefore, it’s not a case of simply employing people with the correct qualifications and experience – you must continue to work with them closely to ensure that everybody is doing their job properly. As an employer, fundamentally it is you who is liable should accidents occur.

Don’t wait around, do it

The longer you wait, the more risk you are putting your business and your workers under. Accidents happen. In all facets of life this is true, but the number of accidents happening at work is, as per the above, staggering. Many of them could have been avoided had the correct health and safety measures been enacted in the first place. The longer you wait, the more you open yourself and your company up to lawsuits, fines, imprisonment, and bankruptcy.

At Synergos Consultancy, Our Head of Health a Safety Consultant is a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and is, therefore, able to act as your company’s ‘competent person’ for all health and safety matters. Don’t hesitate, act.

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Steve Kilburn
Steve Kilburn
I initially trained as an industrial chemist working in a variety of manufacturing environments eventually moving into quality management which grew to encompass environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. I hold a Masters Degree in Health and Safety law and Environmental Law and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Waste Management and I am a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). In my spare time I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Stephen King, and listening to music, generally from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
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