Applying caveat emptor when hiring H&S advisors

8 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 24, 2017

If your business has been affected by poor service, who is to blame – the service provider or yourself (for not practicing caveat emptor before hiring the service)? Caveat emptor means ‘let the buyer beware‘.

This means the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods or services prior to purchase.

While this may seem over the top for a transport business, it is important you apply this principle when hiring a health and safety consultant. Failure to do so may result in the development of your future H&S systems being a very costly exercise.

Why is this important?

Following the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act last April, there has been a proliferation of H&S consultants and advisors. In Hawke‘s Bay the number of advisors/consultants has gone from 10 to more than 20. If this is indicative of what is happening nationwide, then my advice to any business considering hiring an external H&S advisor is to do your homework before committing to them.

It is also interesting to note the exponential increase in the number of advertised vacancies for H&S officers, managers, assistants and advisors over the past 12 months.

I have heard and witnessed several horror stories. One was one of the worst cases of overload and client abuse I had witnessed in 25 years in the H&S industry, and cost the company more than $40,000.

I visited this company late last year and their new HS employee was wading his way through a ring binder so tightly packed with paper that there was no room for another sheet. He also had eight more folders to support this over-the-top H&S monster.

Three separate H&S consultants had said the same things to this company and each provided different systems.

One of the issues that too many businesses face is that some consultants promise the world and fail to deliver. Therefore, checking credentials, their experience, and aftersales service, prior to engagement, is critical.

What to watch out for

Beware of consultants:

1. Who insist you require a H&S policy statement and a manual. There is no requirement in the Act for either. In saying this, I recommend you have well documented procedures and/or simple flowcharts and keep easily retrievable records in hard copy or electronic media.

2. Who use fear tactics and state if you buy their $3,000 to $5,000 template manual, you will be protected from WorkSafe NZ prosecution, and they will stand by you and go to bat for you in court.

3. Who want to provide you with six to eight H&S manuals containing a records system. Even though the Act came into being in 1992, there are still consultants hawking this, coupled with scare tactics.

4. Who say you must have a staff toolbox meeting every week. One company I know of has been told this, and the meetings are managed by the consultant. Although some industry codes, like forestry, require this, there is no requirement in the Act to have meetings, only to engage employees in H&S management, give them a reasonable opportunity to be involved in H&S management, and that relevant information about the matter is shared with workers in a timely manner. It is up to your business when and where you involve your staff or having meetings.

Tips for hiring the H&S consultant

1. If you are unsure of what you require, talk to other companies and make it known you are looking to attract likely H&S advisors to interview.

2. Check them out by using the following checkpoints:

  • How long have they been in business and how big is their business?
  • Do they belong to a professional association?
  • Can they provide evidence of relevant training and formal qualifications?
  • Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
  • Do they have practical experience in your industry or type of business activity?
  • While qualifications are important, the depth of experience in different businesses as well as the type of industries they have worked for is also very important.
  • Have they any auditing qualifications or experience? This question will provide you with an indication of their understanding of legislative requirements and ability to dig into systems and processes and to challenge the status quo.
  • Do they have any templated systems or other documents, and they willing to change them to suit your business?
  • Do they supply hard-copy documents and an electronic copy so you can manage systems, if you decide to?
  • Do they own or support any online or web-based H&S software solutions?
  • Do they have good people, communication and IT skills?
  • Are they happy for you to contact their clients about the work they have done for them?

3. Your company should set the scope and parameters of the work you require, with timeframes.

4. Ask for the cost and be prepared to negotiate the cost and identify exactly what services you will receive.

5. Identify what aftersales service and support they will (or can) provide.

6. Don‘t hire on a handshake; ensure terms and conditions are set out in writing and signed, and milestones are agreed to.

7. Insist the advisor provides you with a written implementation plan.

8. Meet on a set schedule (monthly) and request you receive a written report on their progress.

9. After the service, debrief and check off the work against your original scoping document and the implementation plan.

In conclusion, a key factor in the responsibilities of all PCBUs and officers of businesses is that the responsibility for health and safety cannot be abdicated or contracted out. For too long, health and safety has been like a ‘space-saver‘ in the boot of businesses, instead of treating it like other production processes that are the accepted norms/wheels of the business.

To ignore H&S management is no longer an excuse, and not practising caveat emptor in all your business dealings can be expensive, as many have found out.