Who Is a Competent Person for Excavations?
This explanation may help excavation contractors understand what is meant by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) concept of a “competent
Who can be a competent person?
A competent person can be anyone at the job site. It can be the backhoe
operator, the foreman or any other individual. Most contractors appoint their
foreman, superintendent or lead individual as the competent person. OSHA does
not require a competent person to be certified, only trained. As such,
contractors should develop an initial and refresher training program for
What is a competent person?
OSHA defines a competent person as: “… 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 the authority to take corrective measures to eliminate them.” Thus, a
competent person must have the knowledge to identify hazards and the authority
to take preventive actions, including stopping the work. In addition, a
competent person must be trained in the requirements of the standard, including
When and where should the competent person work?
A competent person is required at the job site only if workers will be entering
the excavation. If all work is done from the top, a competent person is not
Why is the competent person there?
The competent person ensures safety precautions are taken to prevent worker
injury. The competent person has these responsibilities:
Note: Some construction sites have reported that OSHA inspectors have asked
competent persons for a card as proof of their training. The inspector then
asks if the competent person is aware of the OSHA standards for excavations.
When the competent person answers yes, the inspector then announces that any
violation will be a “willful” violation since the competent person has been
trained and is aware of the standard. Contractors should discuss this issue
with legal counsel and their local OSHA office.
Monitoring water removal equipment and operations.
Inspecting excavations, adjacent areas and protective systems daily.
Removing workers from hazards.
Classifying the soil, using at least one visual and one manual test and, if
necessary, to reclassify the soil when conditions change.
Reducing soil slope below maximum allowable.
Designing structural ramps. (However, most contractors will use an engineer to
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