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Creating Competency in Safety: Understanding, Application, and Motivation

Imagine a worksite where everyone takes responsibility for hazard recognition and control.  – Carl Potter

Wouldn’t it be neat to look out over your workplace and realize that everyone who works there is safety competent?  It can be done, but it takes commitment by top management who want to create competency in safety.  In my work I have found that top management in an organization are driven by profit and loss.  When they have a meeting, middle management will point to the numbers that communicate sales, production, and cost.  Seldom are they approached about grass roots issues such as safety competency.  If we had to rate the safety competency of top management they might not score very high.  So what about safety competency at the operational level?

During the investigation of a serious injury or fatality OSHA will ask the question, “Who is the safety competent person?”  At that point the top manager will look at the operations, and maintenance manger who will then point at the assigned safety manager.  As in the plumbing business, “It all rolls downhill.”  They are all pointing at the designated safety manager because he is “designated.”


Simply designating a competent safety person on the organizational chart is easy, but it doesn’t make it right.  So what does it take?


First, competency in safety does not come by simply attending a 10 hour OSHA Outreach Course taught by an authorized instructor.  Competency is based on knowledge and experience of the person being assigned which gives them the ability to recognize hazards and also have the authority to mitigate the hazard, consider one of OSHA’s definitions of a safety competent person:

Under OSHA, General Safety and Health Provisions, Construction, Definitions (1926.32(f) “One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.  Hence, during an investigation leadership may find it difficult to make a case for the safety manager being safety competent.

OSHA compliance officers will be quick to tell you that not everyone meets the “Competent Person” designation.  The fact is, “Nobody is competent in all areas of safety.”  I am a Certified Safety Professional designated by education, experience, and because I passed a test.  Not to mention that I have CEU requirements to maintain the designation, BUT!  This does not make me a competent person in every aspect of safety.  It is impossible to be all knowing in the world of safety.

Creating competency in safety is a journey that must begin with basic understanding, application, and motivation to have a measureable level of safety competency.  The 10 Hour OSHA Outreach Training class is a great beginning, but it is by no means the end.  Adding the 20 Hour course is great but still there is more.  Here are a few areas where safety competence must be specific:

  • Electrical Work
  • Scaffolding
  • Excavation
  • Hazardous Material
  • Machine Guarding
  • Other as designated by your own worksite hazard assessment

Your worksite assessment will help you to identify the specific safety competencies that are required.  This is a process that should be undertaken as part of your Safety Management Process (SMP) and create an organizational standard to be developed and maintained.

When it comes down to safety competency organizations must be specific, however I believe that the more general safety competent people you have, the more successful you will be to preventing every workplace injury.  That is why I encourage you to train ALL EMPLOYEES (CEO through the college intern) in hazard recognition and control.

Think about OSHA’s definition of organizational responsibility for creating a safe workplace.  According to the General Duty Clause (the most cited regulation) the employer must mitigate all recognized hazards.  The first step to mitigation of hazards is recognition.  Secondly, they must be able to evaluate the risk level and then finally apply controls.  To be compliant with OSHA you must have safety competent people.  Safety competency is created through understanding, applying, and being motivated in safety.  That is why in the Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop I wrote, we teach; what causes injuries, how to prevent injuries, and why we should want to prevent injuries.

Imagine a worksite where everyone takes responsibility for hazard recognition and control.  We would like to work with your organization to build the safety competency of all your employees so that everyone can go home every day without injury.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


If you are interested in having a discussion about  moving forward to develop safety competency throughout your organization, email me: and we will set a time for a conference call.

Additionally, you may want to send some of you people to one of our open enrollments of the Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop and or Safety and the supervisor Seminar.  You can find out about upcoming dates by emailing me at


2 Responses to Creating Competency in Safety: Understanding, Application, and Motivation

  • James odell says:

    Well written, Carl! Something every organization needs to understand. Thanks!

  • Safety works from the top down. Even if top management will never set foot on the work floor or in the field, it is important that everyone be trained in safety procedures. accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, and it is appropriate that the entire staff know what to do, not just the designated “safety guy.”

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