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Toolbox Talk: Authorized, Competent, and Qualified

By April 29, 2024 May 6th, 2024 No Comments

Understanding the differences between an authorized, competent, and qualified person can be challenging, even with OSHA’s definitions in standards 1910 and 1926. In this toolbox talk, we’re breaking down the differences between each designation and why it’s important to be able to identify them on the job site. Understanding the OSHA definitions of a competent, qualified, and authorized person is necessary for complying with regulations and keeping your employees safe.

Properly identifying hazards in the workplace is a critical aspect of risk reduction and mitigation, and can literally be the difference between life and death. To protect workers, it’s necessary to meet OSHA standards and select a competent person. Employers bear the responsibility of selecting the right person to identify hazards, conduct equipment inspections, and perform safety assessments.

When OSHA regulations require an employee to be authorized, competent, or qualified, employers must ensure and document that the person has the skills, training, and understanding necessary to keep themselves and others safe.

Who is an Authorized Person?

The definition of an authorized person is the most straightforward. An authorized person refers to a person who is approved or assigned by the employer to perform a certain type of duty or to be at a specific location at the job site. For example, a signalperson or flagger may be authorized to be at entrances or roadways leading to a job site. In general industry, a person may be authorized to apply or remove a lock in lockout/tagout procedures.

Who is a Competent Person?

Within construction and general industry regulations, OSHA stipulates competency requirements across approximately 25 of their standards. OSHA has four definitions for a competent person, with a central theme among all four: a competent person can identify hazardous conditions.  Depending on the context, a competent person also has the skills, knowledge, experience, training, and authorization specific to the hazard, enabling them to take corrective measures.

Training and experience are two ways to become competent, but simply sitting through a training session isn’t enough. To be deemed competent, an employee must also demonstrate their capabilities to their employer.

Who is a Qualified Person?

Like a competent person, a qualified person can identify or recognize hazardous conditions. However, a qualified person also has additional training, experience, or instruction enabling them to perform tasks that an unqualified person would not be able to do safely. Across the construction and general industry sectors, OSHA requires qualified personnel in over 40 different regulations.

Electrical work is a good example of the need for qualified personnel. While a competent person would be able to identify electrical components and have a general knowledge of electrical hazards, a qualified person possesses the knowledge, skills, and training to perform specialized electrical tasks safely.

In some cases, a degree or certification may be required as part of a qualification. In other cases, it may involve a combination of tenure and training. Similar to determining competency, employers must also ascertain whether a person meets the criteria to be considered qualified concerning a hazard.


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