Competency. It’s a word we hear bantered about when we discuss workers’ knowledge, skills and aptitude with regard to safety.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a fully competent workforce, where every person was fully capable of performing work safely? Some might say there’s no possibility of having a workplace where everyone is proficient in knowing and applying safety rules, practices and procedures, but it’s a challenge worth taking up, wouldn’t you agree?

Competency is required as part of a sustainable safety culture. Developing a strong safety culture where competency is a foundation requires commitment  —  commitment to build understanding, promote application and instill motivation. The commitment must come from leadership for focus and resources — both time and money. While many HVAC construction executives tend to be more comfortable with spreadsheets and balance sheets than they are with safety processes and procedures, they have a responsibility to oversee safety of the employees and contractors who work for the organization. Part of that responsibility is ensuring the organization has safety-competent personnel.

However, executive and leadership commitment is only half of the equation. Building a competent safety workforce also requires employee commitment. Leaders can provide time and money for employee training and development to build knowledge and skills that will keep people safe, but learning and application can’t be forced. Employees must be engaged in learning and application.

Who’s up to the task?

Have you asked yourself who the competent safety people are at your company? If not, you should. Competency is based on knowledge and experience of the person assigned to do specific work, which gives them the ability to recognize hazards and the authority to mitigate the hazard.

If you are a supervisor, manager or executive at your work site, you must know who the competent personnel are. During an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation, company leaders 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. Creating competency in safety is a journey that must begin with basic understanding, application, and motivation to know and do the work without injury to self and others. Many safety courses are good for general education, but do not deeply address areas where competency is required.

A 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 and create an organizational standard to be developed and maintained.

When it comes to safety competency, organizations must be specific. However, all employees at every level — from the CEO to the college intern — need to be trained to recognize hazards of all types. According to OSHA’s general duty clause — the most cited regulation — the employer must mitigate all recognized hazards. The first step to the mitigation of hazards is recognition. Secondly, employees must be able to evaluate the risk level and then apply controls.

As a leader in your organization, do your part to ensure that everyone understands their roles with regard to specific skills and general hazard recognition and control. Provide sufficient training, so employees know how to apply the safe work procedures to their specific work, and motivate employees to take responsibility and be accountable for safety throughout the organization.

Each of these actions can mean that your workplace, shop or work site is one where it’s difficult to get hurt, which means more people will go home to their families every day without injury.

Carl Potter is a certified safety professional and certified management consultant who writes, speaks and consults with leaders who want to create a zero-injury workplace. Since 1992, he has worked across the U.S. and Canada with one purpose: to eliminate every workplace injury. Learn more at or contact him at