25 Mar Frustrations with Contractor Pre-Qualification
Is contractor prequalification just about compliance to the law or about making a difference?
The challenge to this statement was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I meet up with a neighbour who was spitting sparks, and said to me, “I’m in the wrong business – how do I become a health and safety consultant?”
He then asked me “what does my business plan, my KPIs, or my budget for health and safety have to do with an audit company that aren’t even based in NZ?”
“I only employ 7 staff”, he said, “the audit has cost me over $2,000, and my partner has spent over 160 hours trying to work out what we were supposed to submit. What the hell is going on? I’m at a stage of shutting down my business because of all this b———–t!, I can’t be bothered with it!”
If this sounds like he was really annoyed, then you are right. How many other SME contractors in New Zealand have been subjected to this audit process, have also been pulling out their hair, have the 2am wake up or worse, have thought about shutting down their business?
What made his anger and concerns even worse was that he has a second small company that works side by side with the same staff, but under different names. He also had to register this 2nd company at another $2,000.
To add further fuel to his annoyance was that when (after several attempts by his partner to get it right) his first company passed the audit, she then changed the name of the company to the second company in the documentation and resubmitted it.
This was rejected as being incomplete, yet had been approved for his first business. It’s little wonder that there is a reluctance for many SME businesses to embrace health and safety in New Zealand with this kind of nonsense going on.
This frustration was further endorsed when I received a phone call for help from an Auckland company with 8 staff, experiencing similar issues. All they do is to drive trucks to and from a worksite, but had to also go through the same hoops.
When one considers the industry group, they are predominately made up of operators who have come off the tools, they hate paper work and bureaucracy, and developing health and safety systems can be an exasperating and time-consuming exercise for many. Most are too busy working in their business, they run on squeezed and tight margins, and have little time to work on their business.
As a result, the systems are usually run by their wives or partners who manage the finances, the book work and compliance stuff, and now coupled with a complex auditing system, then you get to understand the frustrations or in the case of my neighbour, his airing of his frustrations.
This auditing standard in question and its evaluation methods has raised several questions.
Firstly, why was the standard AS/NZS 4801 health and safety standard used, instead of using questions gained from the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015? After all, this is what all NZ businesses must comply with.
The hierarchy of importance of H&S documentation in New Zealand is like a pyramid with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 on top:
1. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015;
2. The Health and Safety at Work Regulations 2017;
3. International standards like AS/NZS 4801 Occupational health and safety management systems;
4. WorkSafe New Zealand accepted codes of practice;
5. Approved Industry Standards;
6. Industry best practice.
Number 3 is voluntary for any business to implement, unless needed by the business as a template to improve their business or as a requirement to do business by their customers.
Secondly, what are the skills of the assessors?
- Are they qualified and experienced as health and safety auditors?
- What is their experience with health and safety management systems?
- What is their understanding of NZ health and safety law?
- Do they have any experience in business?
Is the final assessment just a tick box exercise against another checklist by hired staff?
(One complimentary remark my neighbour made was that the helpdesk of the auditing company was brilliant in their explanations.)
Was the reason for AS/NZS 4801 being used as the base criteria so that the principal company would have the confidence that their contractors were, not only achieving the base requirements for effective health and safety management, but also meeting the requirements of an international standard? Hence, the reason for KPIs and budgets and the need for planning for health and safety management as part of a company’s business planning? It is interesting to note that there is no requirement for KPIs, business plans, or even to have a H&S policy in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
The AS/NZS 4801 standard is now in the process of changing to the international standard ISO4500 2018. My concern is that when this comes into force that the contractors will be required to update their health and safety systems to meet this revised standard.
I imagine that if this happens, there will be more than one contractor spitting sparks and having sleepless nights.
Another factor for consideration is that on their next audit, they are going to be expected to supply evidence that they are complying with what they said they are doing (in the pre-qual) and have the evidence to prove it.
Contractor pre-qualifications should not be considered as a negative exercise for any business, they should be considered as an opportunity for the continual improvement of the business.
The audit should not be feared as long as the feedback is acted on. This is only as good as the contractor acting on the advice. Acting on the audit recommendations should make a difference to any business, as health and safety should not just be about compliance.
Please contact us if you wish to discuss this further.
Read our article “Contractor Prequalification“.