Competency: Prove to me you can do it, safely
By Michael Selinger
I attended an industry panel discussion recently where the vexed question of verification of competency (VOC) was raised. Competency is a measure of proven skills and proven knowledge. VOC is a process where a business verifies the competency of a worker before allowing them to commence work.
It often arises in the context of high risk industries, like construction. It is a vexed issue because there are no consistent or approved criteria for verifying the competency of any particular worker.
In general terms, competency may be verified by:
- Recognition of prior learning;
- On-site recognition of current competency;
- Training and development programs.
Most verification methods will always include a documented assessment. Although theoretical knowledge should be assessed in the classroom environment, it can also be conducted on the job through verbal questioning. On the other hand, assessing someone’s skills is usually conducted on the job via a test or simulation. Keeping records of this assessment is important.
Recognition of prior learning (RPL)
Many organisations will recognise prior learning as a valid way of verifying competency. This process is used to determine the worker’s experience and knowledge gained through training, whether formal or informal, and other work experience. This can be used for your workers if they are involved in undertaking repeated tasks or working on a particular piece of equipment for many years.
An organisation can also recognise current competency. This is a process where a person has previously been deemed to be competent or completed an assessment elsewhere which is still said to be current. A business might assume that the worker was competent before and is now required to be reassessed to ensure the maintenance of that competence.
The important aspects for this type of process is to ensure that any evidence given or assessed as part of that verification is actually current and authentic. Sometimes, this can be challenging.
Finally, an organisation might rely on gauging a worker’s competency through a training and development program, whether via a classroom environment or online. In either case, it is important that the components of the training the worker receives meet the criteria of competency for the particular task. Often these are conducted through a technical college with specific components. A worker has to demonstrate that they passed these components in order to be considered competent. Of course, you still will want to observe them perform the job for you when they start.
The VOC has taken greater significance ever since the safety regulators ceased issuing a number of operator licences. For example, front end loaders, excavators, scrapers, road rollers, and skid steer loaders. Now, the onus is now on the business to ensure that an operator of plant is competent.
Taking the above approaches into account, a business might rely on one or more of the following as evidence of competency:
- A previous assessment of competency;
- A statement of attainment or other nationally-recognised qualification;
- Completed training at an industry training school or competency card from that industry;
- Evidence of on-the-job training by another experienced and competent person, along with log books.
With the ever-increasing focus on improving safety in the workplace, VOC has a significant role to play.
However, it is important to keep focus of the main purpose of VOC, which is to ensure the worker has adequate skills and expertise to undertake the task. This does not mean that there is a requirement for repeated VOC checks on experienced workers, so long as an organisation can demonstrate that it relied on credible and authentic evidence to establish the competency of the worker.
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