12 Mar Applying caveat emptor when hiring H&S advisors
If your business has been stung or ripped off by poor service, who is to blame – the service provider or yourself (for not practicing caveat emptor before hiring the service)? Caveat emptor simply means “let the buyer beware”.
This Latin principle means that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods or services, before a purchase is made.
While this may read as a bit over the top , it is important that you apply this principle when hiring any external advisor, or in this case, a health and safety consultant. If you don’t, the development of your future H&S systems may end up being a very costly exercise as some have found.
Why is this important?
While caveat emptor may be rather ancient sage advice, with the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2015, it is advice I suggest you should take notice of.
Following the introduction of the Act, there has been a proliferation of H&S consultants and advisors. In Hawke’s Bay, the number of advisor/consultants have gone from 10 to over 25. If this is an indicative sample of what is happening in the New Zealand commercial sector, then my advice to any business who is 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.
Over the past twelve months, I have been hearing and witnessing several horror stories. One case is one of the worst case of overload and client abuse I have witnessed in all my 25 years of working in the H&S industry. This had cost the company more than $40,000.
I visited this company late last year and their company’s new H&S 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 other folders to support this over the top H&S monster.
While not wanting to sound crass, this company had been done over by three separate H&S consultants all saying the same thing and providing different systems.
One of the issues that too many businesses face is that some consultants promise the world and deliver a barrow load of dirt. Therefore, checking credentials, their experience, and after sales service, prior to engagement, is critical.
What to watch out for
Beware of the consultants:
- That insist that you require a H&S policy statement and a manual. There is no requirement in the Health and Safety at Work Act that either are required. In saying this, I do recommend that you do have well documented procedures and/or simple flowcharts and that you keep good records in hard copy or electronic media that can be quickly retrieved.
- That use fear tactics and state that if you buy their $3,000 – $5,000 template (door-stop) manual, you will be protected from WorkSafe NZ prosecution and secondly, they will stand by you and go into bat for you in court. Yes, this is happening.
- That want to provide you with 6-8 H&S manuals containing a system and the rest for records. Even though the Health and Safety Act came into being in 1992, there are still some H&S consultants hawking this kind of overload garbage coupled with a good dose of fear tactics.
- That tell you that you must have a toolbox meeting every week with your staff. One company I know of has been told this and the meetings is managed by the consultant. Although some industry codes, like forestry, require that this is undertaken, there is no requirement in the Health and Safety at Work Act to have meetings, but only to:
- engage your employees in H&S management;
- that workers are given a reasonable opportunity to be involved in H&S management; and
- that relevant information about the matter be shared with workers in a timely manner.
It is up to your business when and where you will involve your staff or have the meetings.
Tips for hiring the H&S consultant
- If you are unsure of what you require, talk to other companies and make it publicly known, to attract 2-4 likely H&S advisors to interview.
- Check them out by using the following checkpoints:
- How long have they been in business and the size of their business?
- Are they a member of a professional association?
- Can they provide evidence of relevant training and knowledge, such as 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 had any auditing qualifications or experience? This question will provide you with an indication of their understanding of legislative requirements and their ability to dig into systems and processes and to challenge the status quo. This is what you should be looking for if you want a good service.
- 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 the systems, if you decide to do so?
- Do they own or support any online or web based H&S software solution?
- Do they have good people, communication and IT skills? If the consultant can’t relate to your employees and is over their head with complexity, this could be a recipe for failure.
- Are they happy for you to contact their clients about the work they have done for them?
- Your company should set the scope and parameters of the work you require with timeframes.
- Email them with these terms and meet to agree on the terms and both parties to sign off.
- Ask for the cost of the services and be prepared to negotiate the cost and identify exactly what you will receive.
- Identify what after sales service and support they will (or can) supply or provide
- Don’t hire on a handshake – ask that their terms and conditions are set out in writing and you set your milestones on the progress of their work.
- Insist that the advisor provides you with a written implementation plan.
- Meet on a set schedule (monthly) and request that you receive a written report on their progress.
- After the service, debrief and check off the work against your original scoping document and the implementation plan.
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 finance, quality, HR and production processes that are the accepted norms/wheels of the business.
To ignore H&S management is no longer an excuse.
To not practice the principle of caveat emptor in all your dealings of business can be expensive as many have found out.
To discuss this further, please contact us today.