The term ‘competent person’ is used throughout health and safety legislation. In some cases plant and equipment must be tested or examined or inspected by a competent person, in others the person carrying out an activity is required to be competent. The legislation does not however give any definition of the attributes of a competent person.

By reference to practice, published standards and legal interpretation it is possible to identify the attributes of a competent person. A competent person (who may be a body corporate or a team of people acting together) will have the appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the task they are doing to enable them to complete the work safely and without risk to themselves or others.

Where the competent person is carrying out statutory inspections or examinations of plant or other work equipment then their practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the equipment will enable them to detect defects or weaknesses and to assess their importance in relation to the safety and continued use of that equipment.

A competent person carrying out statutory examinations may often be employed by another organisation but this is not always necessary. Statutory inspections can be carried out in-house provided that the person completing them has the necessary practical and theoretical knowledge and experience and provided they are sufficiently independent and impartial to ensure that the examination is made without fear or favour. They should not be the person who undertakes routine maintenance of the equipment – as they would then be responsible for assessing their own maintenance work and would not have the necessary independence.