Importance of ‘competence’ cannot be under-estimated

Matt Morse, a specialist in Legionella control and water treatment, discusses ‘competence’, with a particular focus on Legionella control, what the term signifies, how it can be measured, and why it is so important in a patient safety-critical field.

Matt Morse, who has worked in Legionella control and water treatment for over 20 years, both for service-providers and as an independent consultant, and works part-time as the Manager of the Legionella Control Association, discusses the subject of ‘competence’, with a particular focus on Legionella control. He focuses on what the term signifies, how it can be measured, and why it is so important into such a patient safety-critical field.

This article is about competence, specifically for Legionella control and management, but the principles could be applied to any area where a third party holds a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that individuals are competent. Failings that lead to breaches in health and safety law, life-changing illness, and death, almost always have the thread of lack of competence running through them. Dutyholders can be prosecuted if these failings happen on their watch, regardless of the specialist advisor, Authorising Engineer (AE), or the contractor they have hired, and this sometimes comes as a surprise

So first, what is competence, and why is it important? Competence is often confused with training by duty-holders, AEs, Responsible Person(s) (RPs), et al, and while training is often a component of competence, they are certainly not the same thing. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states: ‘Competence can be described as the combination of training, skills, experience, and knowledge that a person has, and their ability to apply them to perform a task safely. Other factors, such as attitude and physical ability, can also affect someone’s competence.

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