How to Effectively Perform Competency Mapping

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Competency mapping is a process of linking employees to job duties, job duties to hazards, and hazards to training that will eliminate or mitigate those hazards. There’s no one right way to perform a competency map, and it can be a difficult process. However, the results are worth it. A well-done competency map allows an EHS manager to reliably assign the most necessary training to an employee, and avoid wasting time with irrelevant training.

If performed correctly, the competency mapping process will produce a database that will consist of at least four related sets of data (or tables): (1) the associated activities (or tasks); (2) the significant hazards or environmental aspects associated with those tasks; (3) the competencies required to mitigate or eliminate the associated hazards; and finally (4) the training to be deployed to provide the employees with those identified competencies.  Upon completion of this, the EHS manager may decide to add in a fifth table, that of the roles or positions of the employees and link the identified tasks with those roles.

How you get from A to B will ultimately depend on what information is readily available to you, and how many tasks/jobs/hazards you must take into account. The larger the scale, the more problems you may encounter. To map competencies on a company-wide basis will involve different departments, operations and likely different locations.

Here is a generic list of steps, showing how a typical competency mapping process may work:

  1. Identify what information sources and data will be most useful to you. Typically, the Job Safety Analysis (JSA) will be a primary source of information. JSAs may typically include the following information: the description of work; Potential Hazards; Applicable Safe Work Practices; Required PPE; Potential Environmental Impacts; and the Applicable Environmental Mitigation or Practice. We have found other valuable information may come from legal requirements, aspect and impacts, and competencies identified under management systems like ISO 9000, ISO 14001, OSHAS 18001. Of course, there may be many other sources of information within a company and the mapper must draw a line at what is useful and manageable and what isn’t. This does introduce some subjectivity, so an established significance testing methodology is useful at this stage.
  2. Once the sources have been identified, requests for those sources must be sent out to departments and to contractors and subcontractors, if that information isn’t centralized.
  3. Develop a comprehensive list of all activities and tasks from the JSAs. You can include aspects from EMS documentation in this list if you are including this in the assessment. Give each task/activity/aspect a unique identifier e.g. TSK001, TSK002.
  4. Develop a taxonomy of hazards. To do this, all potential hazards identified in the data sets must be isolated and grouped based on general or primary hazard. Initially, we identified by hazard type, for example ‘Energy release’, but soon realized, this was far too generic and found it necessary to subgroup – e.g. designating static electricity, high voltage unit, electrical shock, and overhead power lines as sub-items of ‘energy release.’ Some JSAs detailed these sub-groups, some did not, so additional work was needed to determine what the ‘energy release’ meant. However, once all hazards were identified, sorted and grouped, they were assigned a primary identifier and subgroup e.g. FAL-01, FAL-02 or NRG-01, NRG-02 and so on.
  5. Establish a well-defined set of employee competencies based on existing competencies outlined in JSAs, and developing new ones where there are gaps. What is it the employee needs to know to protect from the identified hazard? Examples of competencies:
    1. Select ways to prevent electrical hazards
    2. Recognize hand-held power tool safe-operation requirements
    3. Identify work situations where grounding is required
    4. Know how to properly complete an excavation permit. Unique identifiers should be assigned to these competencies. There is no need to group these; the identifiers can be linear. For example, CMP01, CMP02, CMP03, CMP04, CMP05, and so on.
  6. At this point, we should have three lists:
      1. tasks/activities
      2. hazard taxonomy
      3. competencies

    At this stage each item in each list should have its own unique identifying code.

  7. The next part may be a bit difficult, because there may be some level of subjectivity involved. But the goal is that for each hazard, you must identify those tasks which are associated with that hazard, and link each relationship using the correct identifiers. Using commercially available database software such as MS Access will make this part more manageable. Let’s use an example hazard from the taxonomy. Say the hazard “Fall from height to lower level” has been assigned the identifier FAL03. It must now be linked to the tasks which have that associated hazard in the JSAs.  So the tasks ‘Working on scaffold’ (TSK12), ‘Reading tank gauges’ (TSK26) and ‘Ladder work’ (TSK38) would be associated with the hazard FAL03. In the database, we would log Hazard/Task relationships like this:
    However, it’s important to remember that any given task will likely be associated with more than one hazard. Continue to develop the Hazard/Task ‘many-to many’ relationship until all tasks/activities are associated with their assigned hazards in this way.
  8. Now, perform the same process of association with hazards and competencies. All identified hazards must be assessed and associated with applicable competencies. These form the Hazard/Competencies relationships in the database. If required competencies are not developed, new competencies appropriate to the hazard must be developed and given an identifier.
  9. Enter all Hazard/Task and Hazard/Competencies into separate tables in the database.
  10. Finally, all available and relevant training courses are added to the database in a separate table, and given a unique identifier: TRGXXX, for example. It is advisable to include training courses you know will be needed even if they are not yet available. Courses must be assigned to the competencies in the Competency Table.  If a training resource cannot be identified for all competencies, these will need to be developed at a later date. A placeholder code of TRG999 may be used as a temporary measure in the competency table.
  11. Let’s summarize. We are developing four distinct tables of values:
    1. Tasks/Activities/Aspects
    2. Hazard Taxonomy
    3. Competencies
    4. Training

Then, one-to-many and many-to-many relationships are developed between task/hazard, hazard/competency and competency/training. Some entries in the database are not yet linked (largely because they are surplus to requirement), but will be needed as the training program and database expands. Obsolete entries may be easily deleted at a later date.

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