I’ve been to see a couple of new clients recently. I’ve left both meetings feeling frustrated and annoyed. Not with my clients, but because they have both received extremely poor service from so called ‘health and safety consultants’.
Now, I’m not knocking health and safety consultants – I am one, after all. But I am knocking health and safety consultants and consultancies that appear to be trying to exploit the knowledge gap that some businesses may have.
Many firms don’t necessarily know enough about health and safety to really know what support they need, what they can expect or what they are signing up for.
Some less scrupulous consultants promise to provide a tailored health and safety management system and then slap a ring binder containing nothing but generic template documents on the table and claim everything necessary is contained within for example.
I am also knocking health and safety consultancies that promise to give health and safety advice and support, place businesses on a 12 month contract – with difficult cancellation clauses – and then simply quote legislation down the phone without giving real advice and assistance.
This has led me to consider, what (or who) is a good health and safety consultant and what can you expect from a good health and safety consultant.
I guess there are two aspects to consider. Firstly the person (consultant) themselves, and then the service that they will (or won’t) provide.
Knowledge and experience
Well, there is the obvious of course. A good health and safety consultant needs to have knowledge and experience in health and safety. They should be able to demonstrate this through their working experience and their qualifications.
Knowledge and experience of your industry is also helpful, but not necessarily essential. Many health and safety skills are transferable between industries and most experienced health and safety professionals will have a network of trusted, competent professionals from whom they can seek advice and direction.
But, you do need a consultant who will be honest and tell you if something is outside of their competency. No health and safety professional can ever know everything, no matter what they tell you. The important thing is that they know their limitations and are willing to do the necessary research to gain the knowledge and information they need to help you.
Charterships and accreditations can be important. They can be a good way of demonstrating that knowledge is kept up to date, but they are not the be all and end all.
Consultants may be able to demonstrate continual professional development in other ways. I have been asked if membership of the OSHCR is important – in my opinion, no. There is already a professional body for safety professionals (IOSH) which requires the maintenance of a CPD cycle.
I don’t really see what OSHCR offers in addition to this.
Someone you like
Knowledge and experience, are the starting point of a great health and safety consultant. But just as important is to engage someone who you feel you can develop a strong working relationship with. This is someone you are going to need to be honest with, and who in turn needs to be honest with you, and in truth from time to time you may have to have some difficult discussions. Therefore, it is important that you actually like the person. I would never advocate engaging a consultant without meeting them first because you need to be able to develop a strong and respectful working relationship.
If you are engaging a larger consultancy, you should ask whether you will receive support from the same consultant each time because different people work in different ways. Consistency in support and delivery is very important.
The last thing on my list of the top 3 things to look for when engaging a consultant is how willing are they to adapt their service to meet your needs?
Does the consultant show you a list of packages and say these are the services we offer?
Or do they talk to you about your business, determine the current status of your health and safety arrangements, listen to any constraints you might currently have, ask you about the type of support you think you would like and then make a proposal based on your specific needs? A proposal which of course can be amended if you feel it doesn’t meet your needs.
I recently heard of a business who engaged a consultancy on a 12-month contract believing they were getting specifically written documentation and telephone advice whenever required because that is what had been agreed (verbally). They signed a contract based on this. They were given a folder full of generic templates (many not even relevant) and no further assistance was given to make these specific to the organisation. When they tried to access telephone advice, they were quoted legislation but no advice or guidance on how to comply. Essentially, they paid for a service that they could not use, that was not designed for them and which did not meet their needs. At the end of their 12-month period, they tried to cancel but missed the 4 week cancellation window and the consultancy tried to roll the contract over. They are now engaged in legal proceedings.
At Buzz Safety, we take great pride in writing the contract to suit the needs of the customer, but in addition, all contracts can be revised to suit the customer’s needs and cancelled at any period with 1 month notice. I have no desire to hold customers to payments if they no longer wish or are able to use our services. Crucifying and creating a financial burden on SMEs is not what we do, we care about the businesses that we work with.