Consultancy: In safe hands

It’s always worth checking that you don’t already have the expertise in-house
or can quickly acquire it through training a member of staff, before calling in
the consultants. But if you decide you do need outside help, you should be clear
about what exactly you need, what resources you will provide and how you will
follow up and measure the results of the consultancy. The best consultants make
themselves redundant by transferring their skills to your staff.

The HSE leaflet Need Help on Health and Safety? gives advice, but HSE
spokesman Mark Wheeler says it is important to remember that if a company briefs
a consultant badly or provides inaccurate information, it rather than the
consultant may still be legally liable if it subsequently breaks health and
safety regulations.

The HSE also advises listening to trade associations and peer groups to make
sure a consultant has experience of your type of business, and suggests looking
at the relevant professional bodies.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), which provides
advice as well as its own consultancy service, goes further. In general health
and safety management the professional body is the Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health (IOSH). Rospa’s occupational safety adviser, Roger Bibbins, is
clear: ‘The consultant should be a chartered member of IOSH.’

IOSH director of technical affairs Richard Jones compares membership with
that of accountants and their professional bodies. ‘It’s a sign that the
individual will have the minimum academic qualifications, at least three years’
experience, be engaged in continuing professional development, bound by a
professional code of conduct and have an appropriate level of professional
indemnity insurance,’ he explains. ‘Companies wouldn’t dream of getting anyone
off the street who called themselves an accountant. They’d want someone who was
chartered. The same goes for health and safety consultants.’

To make it easy, IOSH maintains a list of 300 consultant members and Jones
reckons it can match a company’s specific needs to as many as six available
local consultants. Firms can then organise their own beauty parade. Later this
summer IOSH will also be publishing a guide on what to expect from health and
safety consultants and the questions to ask them, in tandem with a guide for
members on expected standards of behaviour.

But your company may need other specific skills ­ an occupational therapist
or physiotherapist, an ergonomist, or someone with radiation experience. Each
medical discipline has its own professional body that can help you find the
right consultant. A good starting point is (Professional Organisations in
Occupational Safety and Health), which includes a document on the competencies
of each profession.

Getting the right consultant can be well worth it. When organic yoghurt maker
Yeo Valley Farms wanted an independent consultant to carry out an audit, it
invited Rospa and the British Safety Council to tender. ‘There were a lot of
smaller organisations but these were the best known and we wanted one our
employees recognised so we could get the total involvement of our workforce,’
says human resources manager Terry Kelly. ‘Rospa gave a more comprehensive
presentation and had a more thorough quality system.’ The panel included the
engineering director and individual site managers with responsibility for health
and safety. The consultancy cost £12,000 for a two-week audit. ‘Except to get a
ballpark figure when deciding to do this, price has never come into it,’ Kelly
says. ‘We chose the best, regardless of price. They tell you where you’re
falling short and give you guidance. There’s nowhere to hide.’

The first audit gave the company a score of three out of five, and led to
centralisation of health and safety policies plus many individual changes in
practice. ‘We set ourselves a target of a 10% reduction in incidents and
achieved 40%. We’re on target for another 30% reduction, but it’s getting
harder,’ Kelly says.

The company has recently achieved level 5, but is not complacent. Kelly says:
‘You have to score 80% to get level 5, so just because we are level 5 doesn’t
mean we are perfect.’

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