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Water Management Society Guidance
Competence – a guide for employers

Employers have a duty to ensure that any person who carries out a task, as part of their employment, is competent. If a person is being trained, a competent person must supervise that person until they can carry out his work effectively and safely.

This duty also extends to people who employ contractors. A dutyholder must be able to show that their organisation has done enough to reassure itself that the contractors it has engaged are competent.

Definition of Competence

Competence is defined by different organisations and within different guidance. Key abilities include:

  • the ability to carry out and complete tasks effectively and accurately
  • the ability to work safely alone and/or with others
  • the knowledge of their limitations

For many positions in the water management sector and other related disciplines (risk assessors, consultants, water treatment chemists etc.) the person must also have the ability to communicate effectively. Specific guidance can be accessed within BS 8580 regarding specific competency for performing risk assessments and BS 8680, for creating water safety plans, for example.

Recognising Competence

Some of the qualities sought when establishing an individual’s competence (as defined above) include that the person:

  • has undergone appropriate training
  • is sufficiently experienced to carry out the activity accurately, effectively and safely
  • possesses the ability to communicate verbally and in writing
  • has the ability to use their experience to work safely in unusual situations (e.g. when carrying out risk assessments)
  • has demonstrated the ability to manage time (their own and others)
  • is able to meet deadlines without compromising safety

Competence is generally recognised in a practical way. This means that on-the-job assessment is required in order to show that the employee/sub-contractor has the ability to work in a safe manner.

Competence cannot be assessed in the classroom. While training is part of being competent, that training does not have to be classroom based; it can be on-the-job training or continual professional development (CPD). While there are many people who work effectively and safely and have no formal qualifications it is generally expected that consultants, risk assessors, etc., will have relevant formal qualifications, and most will be professional people (most commonly scientists and engineers). They may be members of professional bodies, such as The Water Management Society, or learned associations such as The Royal Society of Chemistry. Anyone practicing within the water management sector, however, will need to be able to show they are able to work competently.

Evidencing Competence

A formal strategy must be put in place in order to demonstrate an individual’s competence, or that competent people are being employed. This will vary depending on whether the person is a contractor, or a direct employee.

This would also apply to a contractor who wished to be able to prove their competence to a client.

Some examples are:

  1. References from customers (for contractors). It is good practice to develop a habit of asking for these. A contractor should hold a portfolio of suitable references to produce as evidence of competence. For direct employees of a contractor, line-managers within that business should be able to provide reassurance of a person’s ability to work safely. For the self-employed, their present customers could be used.
  2. Legionella Control Association (LCA) membership for service providers. Companies that are members of the LCA have a commitment to ensure their employees are competent and a log of these checks should be available.
  3. On-the-job checking on a regular basis. When first employing a contractor their ability should be checked when introducing them to the site and ensuring they can work safely. For direct employees, a supervisor should check their work frequently and keep a record of the findings. In the case of a contractor, a site contact could be asked to do this if evidence is required of ability or the ability of one of the contractor’s employees.
  4. CPD – for example attending relevant webinars or conferences, answering questions in journals such as Waterline or reading relevant standards and guidance. Further information is available here

Recording Competence

Finally, it will be necessary to be able to show that every person employed is competent to do the job they have been employed to do. Records will need to be maintained of all actions and observations and kept up to date [dated and signed]. This should be updated regularly, at least annually and whenever there are changes to personnel or their work.

A CPD log can aid this and an example is shown here: